Friday, March 30, 2001

Fisherman Jonathan Lee, who manages three boats, including
the Dae In Ho, docked behind him at Kewalo Basin, said
he hopes to be one of the first at sea when his federal
clearance comes in. The crew was loading boxes of
bait yesterday in anticipation that a longlining freeze
announced in protection of endangered turtles would
soon be lifted. Two other captains said they
would head out Monday.

Judge to
reopen longline
fishing today

Longliners are eager to start,
even though skirting prime
areas puts catches in doubt

By Diana Leone

U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra is expected to give the green light to Hawaii-based tuna longliners today to fish again on a limited basis after a two-week stoppage.

The news is not a moment too soon for restaurants and stores around town that are feeling the effects of about 50,000 pounds less of fresh local fish a day.

At Masa and Joyce's Okazuya in Kaneohe, the area of the cooler that is usually filled with sashimi is bare.

At Sansei Seafood Restaurant, head sushi chef Yoshi Nakamura said the price of his raw fish supply has been going up and the quality going down. "The customers are very angry," he said.

At Alan Wong's, sous chef Wade Ueoka said the restaurant has only been getting about 60 to 70 percent of the fish it orders from buyers.

The market is there.

That's why crew members were loading boxes of bait sardines yesterday onto Jonathan Lee's boat Dae In Ho in Kewalo Basin. Lee said he hopes to be one of the first boats at sea as soon as the judge's order is made final and he's cleared to go by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"We've been sitting here almost three weeks now," said Lee, who has been fishing in Hawaii since he moved here 22 years ago from Korea.

While he's relieved to be given permission to longline for tuna again, Lee noted that it will have to be outside what is traditionally the best fishing grounds for tuna this time of year.

Following the lead of the fisheries service, Ezra has closed an almost 2 million-square-mile area south of Hawaii to tuna longlining during April and May.

The reason: That's when federal observers posted on longlining boats saw the most interactions between longlining gear and endangered and threatened sea turtles.

The reason they saw more interactions, speculate some fishermen, is that there are more boats doing more fishing because that's where the fish are.

Everyone's uncertain how good the catches are going to be on the perimeter of the preferred grounds.

Shin-Soo Lee, owner-captain of the Robin and Robin II longliners, and Ton Hwa Im, owner-captain of the Blue Sky longliner, agreed that in recent years the best April and May tuna fishing was along the 13th- and 14th-degree latitudes.

"North of 15 degrees, no more fish," Im said.

Still, both captains planned to head out Monday and see if they could find some.

At a meeting of the Hawaii Longline Association yesterday, attorneys for the group briefed eager fishermen on what the judge has decided, which is:

>> To ban swordfishing by Hawaii-based longliners.
>> To close tuna longlining in a set area during April and May each year.
>> To make it harder to longline for a while in Hawaii, then switch a permit elsewhere and come back.

This ruling replaces the court's earlier limitations on longliners, which were temporary until the fisheries service could complete an environmental impact statement.

Some longliners who prefer swordfishing are eager to apply to be "experimental" boats, practicing different techniques to try to bring in swordfish without snagging and hurting sea turtles, said Sean Martin, Hawaii Longline Association president.

Because swordfishing hooks are set in shallower water, they are much more likely to hook turtles. That is why swordfishing was banned and tuna longlining just restricted in attempts to protect the turtles. The fisheries service would be in charge of seeking permits for any experimental swordfishing boats.

Paul Achitoff, the EarthJustice attorney who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Marine Conservation and Turtle Island Restoration Network, said those groups will be watchful of any proposed experimental fishing. "I think it's completely inappropriate to be doing experiments on critically endangered animals."

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