After a closure that lasted more than two months, Hawaii's longline vessels can fish again for bigeye tuna in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands.
Since Aug. 5, the 145 active vessels in the Hawaii longline fleet have been prohibited from catching bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
NMFS determined that the fleet had reached its 2015 US bigeye tuna limit of 3,502 metric tons, developed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, to which the U.S. is a party.
On Tuesday, NMFS announced that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has a 2,000 metric ton catch limit of longline-caught bigeye tuna and can allocate up to 1,000 metric tons each year to U.S. longline fishing vessels in a specified fishing agreement that is consistent with established regulations.
The news was especially welcomed for approximately three dozen Hawaii longline vessels that are larger than 24 meters in length. These larger vessels have been banned from fishing not only in the WCPO but also in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since Aug. 12, 2015.
"The US longline fleet had not increased its effort," noted Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, "but it experienced a bumper crop of bigeye, apparently as a result of the El Nino weather." Simonds also noted that the majority of the bigeye tuna is caught in the equatorial Pacific, far from the Hawaii fishing grounds, and no other country has reached its quota.
The Hawaii longline fishery is unique. The fish are packed in ice and brought fresh to the dock for mostly Hawaii consumption. Only 3 percent is exported. The value of the fish landed by the Hawaii fleet is about $100 million.