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Deep 7 bottomfish stock assessments

By BY DONNELL TATE/Harbor Report - | May 28, 2021

Seven popular bottomfish are grouped and managed by the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources (state waters 0-3 nautical miles from shore), the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (federal waters 3-200 nautical miles from shore).

The Hawaii “Deep 7” bottomfish complex is made up of opakapaka (pink snapper), onaga (longtail snapper), ehu (squirrelfish snapper), kalekale (Von Siebols’ snapper), gindai (Brigham’s snapper), lehi (silverjaw snapper) and hapu’upu’u (Seale’s grouper). Opakapaka and onaga make up the majority of fish caught.

The NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) released a 2020 Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) Deep 7 stock assessment using data through 2018.

The stock is healthy, not overfished and no overfishing occurring, with nearly 2 million more pounds than the last assessment done in 2018.

The assessment relies on catch-and-effort data from the fishery and, more recently, incorporates information from bottomfish fishery-independent surveys.

Scientists complete these surveys annually with a lot of help from local fishermen through the Pacific Island Fisheries Group. The current annual catch limit (ACL) recommended by the council and implemented by NOAA for the MHI Deep 7 bottomfish stock complex is 492,000 pounds.

This ACL was implemented in July 2019 for fishing years 2019, 2020 and 2021. The 2021 fishing year is from Sept. 1, 2020 to Aug. 31, 2021.

Based on the updated assessment, the council recommended at its March 2021 meeting to maintain the same ACL for fishing years 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Over the past five years, fishermen have been catching less than 50 percent of this ACL, showing that this fishery can continue to be sustainably harvested.

The Department of Aquatic Resources reported at the March council meeting that 108,221 pounds of MHI Deep 7 bottomfish have been caught between Sept. 1, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2021.

Landings from the first few months of the fishing year tracked closely with historical averages, but more recently have fallen behind. The agency expects that the total catch for the 2021 fishing year will remain below the average landings over the previous five years.

Council advisors and fishermen who catch opakapaka reported similar lower landings.

Harvests of opakapaka typically make up almost half of the catch for Deep 7 bottomfish. However, it has only made up a third of the total catch for 2021.

Fishermen have also reported that catches for other species, such as gindai and ehu, have been better than usual.

Fishing Year MHI Deep 7 Bottomfish Total Landings (in pounds) are: 2015-16 — 307,152; 2016-17 — 260,660; 2017-18 — 237,490; 2018-19 — 235,341; and 2019-20 — 180,708.

The five-year average is 244,270.