All bottomfish restricted fishing areas now open

On Friday, February 25, 2022 the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved the reopening of all bottomfish restricted fishing areas (BFRAs) which had been closed to fishing since 2007. Registered bottomfish vessels are now allowed to fish for deep-7 bottomfish in all previously closed BRFAs.

In its presentation to the BLNR, the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) said it “believes that opening of all twelve of the BRFAs (four opened as of July 2019), will not adversely affect the overall sustainability of the Main Hawaiian Island Deep-7 fishery, and will be a benefit to local commercial and non-commercial bottom fishers.”

DAR representatives told land board members that Annual Catch Limit (ACL)-based management, coupled with these rules and strategies, “can together effectively manage the fishery.”

The MHI Deep-7 fishery exists in both state and federal waters, and is managed under a cooperative, joint approach. The State, the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) develop complementary regulations based on the best science available. The agencies agree on one set of regulations to make compliance easier.

BRFA designation changed over the years, after being established in 1998, with an original 19 areas, then replaced in 2007 by the twelve in place up to February 25. Data gathering and methodologies also changed since establishment. The 2019 opening of just four of twelve bottom fishing areas was based on an abundance of caution and the desire to take a conservative approach.

Over the past ten fishing years the MHI Deep-7 fishery has landed an average of 232,586-lbs. of mixed Deep-7 species each year. That’s less than 50% of the current 492,000-pound ACL.

Since 1948, the catch from the fishery has only exceeded the current ACL five times, during the peak years of 1985-1989. The DAR submittal to the land board states, “Though the MHI Deep 7 fisheries may rebound in coming years…likelihood that catch will near the 492,000-lb ACL is low.”

“The most recent (2021) update to the 2018 stock assessment again found the deep-7 complex is being fished at sustainable levels. Therefore, DAR is comfortable taking an adaptive management approach to co-management by opening the BRFAs and relying on other conservation tools to sustain the fishery” according to DAR Administrator Brian Neilson.

The BLNR delegated authority to the DLNR chair to implement the re-openings.