Saturday, October 27, 2001

Scientists plan monitoring
of bottomfish population

Star-Bulletin staff

Hawaii scientists will leave this weekend to conduct bottomfish surveys in deep waters of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve and the Pailolo Channel between Molokai and Maui.

They are using the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory's ship Kaimikai O Kanaloa, submersible Pisces IV and RCV-150 ROV (remote operating vehicle).

HURL is cooperating with the National Marine Fisheries Service and state Department of Land & Natural Resources to understand island bottomfish populations.

The scientists recently completed an initial two-week survey of possible study sites in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This was the start of a five-year monitoring program to assess the impact of bottomfishing at the Raita and West St. Rogatien Banks, two seamounts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Part of the September expedition on the Kaimikai O Kanaloa, based at Snug Harbor, was funded by the National Ocean Service Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

The study is aimed at providing data to determine whether bottomfishing should be allowed to continue. Two of the 12 bottomfish species, onaga and ehu, are listed as severely depleted in the main Hawaiian islands.

"We hope this will be the start of a comprehensive survey of bottomfish habitats throughout the reserve in order to better understand their ecology and relationship to the main Hawaiian Islands," said Chris Kelley, co-principal investigator with John R. Smith. The principal investigator is HURL director Alexander Malahoff.

At least nine records of new species of fish and invertebrates were collected in the initial survey.

Robert P. Smith, coordinator for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, said the discoveries "point out the unique nature" of those islands.

"The new finds also illustrate how much we have yet to learn about this relatively unexplored coral reef region of the Pacific," he said.

Seven of the 12 species in the Hawaiian bottomfish fishery are deepwater snappers, including the depleted onaga and ehu. Genetic studies indicate, however, that the larvae may be moving between the Hawaiian Island and Northwestern Hawaiian Island populations.

"This is why Northwestern Hawaiian Island bottomfish populations are now considered important," Kelley said, "not only because they represent half of all bottomfish landings in the state, but also for sustainable management as a possible recruitment source for main Hawaiian Island populations."

Videotapes during the earlier survey show species such as onaga, gindai, kalekale and ehu and other rare deepwater fish species, "one of which has never before been seen in Hawaii," Kelley said.

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