Hawaii swordfish fishery celebrates first landings since last March

Published on
January 23, 2020

After being grounded since last March, the Hawaii swordfish fishery reported its first landings of the season on Friday, 17 January.

Pacific Business News reported that “The Lady Luck” arrived at Pier 38 Friday morning with about 30,000 tons of swordfish. Within hours, the catch hit the auction floor.

Hawaii is a major provider of swordfish for domestic consumers, accounting for 55 percent of the American harvest. That translates into about 14 percent of the swordfish Americans consume.

However, officials shut down the fishery on 19 March, 2019, after it reached its bycatch limit on loggerhead turtles – NOAA Fisheries caps the fishery at 17 loggerhead and 16 leatherback turtles.

“The Hawaii swordfish fishery has a multimillion-dollar impact to the local economy, which includes several wholesale seafood distribution companies,” Garden and Valley Isle Seafood Corporate Sales Executive Mike Lee said in a statement by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. “Hawaii swordfish is a premium product with high levels of demand. Fishery closures disrupt market channels and leave our customers little choice but foreign imports.”

The council added it has submitted a plan to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that would remove the loggerhead cap. If approved, the new plan could be implemented as early as this May.

In place of a cap, the council has recommended a trip limit of five loggerhead and two leatherback turtles for each of the 14 active vessels. If a boat reaches those limits, they must automatically return to port, but it would still be allowed to continue fishing during the season. If it reached the limit for a second time in the season, the boat would be grounded for the rest of the year.

The council said that 99 percent of all turtle interactions in the swordfish fishery end with the turtle released back into the water alive.

Hawaii Longline Association Executive Director Erick Kingma said the forced closures over the past two years have limited the fishery. It has produced about USD 1.5 million (EUR 1.4 million) in swordfish in each of the last two years – roughly a third of what it produced in 2017.

“Additionally, closing the fishery forces swordfish vessels to convert to target tuna (ahi) with the risk that the bigeye tuna quota may be reached before the end of the year, when market demand peaks,” Kingma said in a statement.

Photo courtesy of Tomas del amo/Shutterstock 

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