Hawaii Commercial Fishing

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Hawaii’s commercial fishing industry has an estimated value of $100 million. The industry is centered on the longline fleet which targets primarily bigeye tuna and swordfish.

The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council is the quasi-governmental agency that oversees commercial fishing in Hawaii and the surrounding ocean.


The Fishery

Hawaii’s commercial fishing industry, with an estimated value of $100 million, is centered around its longline fleet of roughly 140 vessels.

Bigeye tuna is the most targeted species, which is predominantly sold at the Honolulu Fish Auction. Industry leaders say most of the tuna, known as ahi in Hawaii, is consumed in the islands, where residents and visitors alike enjoy fresh sashimi, sushi, poke bowls and tuna steaks.

The longliners operate under a quota-management system established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international treaty-based group that sets catch limits. For 2017, the annual catch limit was 3,138 tons of bigeye tuna for the Western and Central Pacific. The longliners have hit that limit months early for the past several years but have been able to access an additional 3,000 tons through financial agreements with three U.S. Pacific island territories — Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa.

The Regulators

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, comprised of 16 members and several advisory committees, has more direct oversight of the commercial fishing industry. Eight members are nominated by the governors of Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, and selected by the Secretary of Commerce. Four are designated state officials from each jurisdiction’s natural resource department, and four are designated federal officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of State.

Wespac has jurisdiction over nearly 1.5 million square miles of ocean, roughly the same size as the continental United States. Managing this massive area to ensure the resources remain available for future generations is among the council’s primary objectives, which are spelled out in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Political and Management Issues

With millions of pounds of fish and other marine life harvested annually in the waters Wespac oversees, the council has faced increasing scrutiny since it was created in 1976 along with seven other regional councils.

The biggest critics have been environmental groups like Earthjustice who have successfully sued to force the Fisheries Service to change practices deemed harmful to endangered species. Officially, the council only advises NMFS, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which falls under the Department of Commerce.

Wespac is steered by Executive Director Kitty Simonds, who has advocated for years to loosen federal protections in national monuments and elsewhere to help the commercial fishermen access more areas and catch more fish.

Hawaii Commercial Fishing

December 2017

Wednesday, December 20

‘Devastation’ Discovered In Deep Sea From Industrial Fishing

November 2017

Monday, November 13

The Odd Story Of How A NOAA Scientist Calculated A Giant Marlin’s Age

August 2017

Friday, August 11

How Wespac Is Twisting Words To Allow More Fishing

June 2017

Friday, June 30

Why The Fishing Industry Wants More Say On Papahanaumokuakea

Friday, June 16

535 Scientists Want Trump To Leave Hawaii’s Marine Monument Alone

May 2017

Tuesday, May 16

Trump’s Review Of National Monuments Panned In Public Comments

April 2017

Monday, April 17

The Fight Over Papahanaumokuakea Just Escalated

December 2016

Tuesday, December 27

Year Of The Tuna: A Quota Showdown Looms In 2017

Friday, December 16

Wespac Still Pushing Obama To Lift Marine Monument’s Fishing Ban

September 2016

Thursday, September 8

AP: Fishermen Exploited In Hawaii

August 2016

Thursday, August 25

War Of Words Escalates As Monument Decision Nears

December 2015

Thursday, December 17

The Limit’s No Limit: US Tuna Fleet Shells Out Cash To Keep Fishing

November 2015

Monday, November 16

Hawaii Rejects Demand For Aquarium Fishing Moratorium

October 2015

Wednesday, October 21

‘Pirate Fishing’ Bill Headed to Obama’s Desk

Tuesday, October 20

At Sea, Merely Observing Can Be Risky Business

Tuesday, October 13

Hawaii Tuna Fishery Reopens, But Judge Could Quickly Close It

Friday, October 9

Council Laments Fishery’s Early Closure

September 2015

Wednesday, September 30

The Mysterious Disappearance of an American Fisheries Observer

Tuesday, September 22

Let’s Work Together to Find the Best Answers for Maunalua Bay

August 2015

Friday, August 28

Commission Should Revisit Longline, Purse Seine Limits for Bigeye Tuna

Wednesday, August 26

Hawaii’s Hunger for Ahi: Panel Debates Fishing Limits for Bigeye Tuna

Tuesday, August 4

Ige Signs Rules to Create Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area

July 2015

Wednesday, July 29

Hawaii Longline Bigeye Fishery Hits Limit, Forcing Early Closure

Friday, July 17

NOAA, DLNR and the Public Must Work Together to Heal Maunalua Bay

Thursday, July 16

‘Energy and Passion’ for Maunalua Bay Drives a Deep Debate Over the Future of the Marine Sanctuary

Wespac Seeks to Expand Bigeye Tuna Quotas for U.S. Fleets

Thursday, July 9

Scientists Want Balance Between Deep-Sea Mining and Ecosystem Sustainability

Seven Months Later, Hawaii Fishing Rules Still Not Signed

Thursday, July 2

Environmental Court: Hopes for Stricter Law Enforcement, Fears of Improper Influence

June 2015

Thursday, June 11

Feds Need to Move Forward With Critical Habitat Plan for the Hawaiian Monk Seal

April 2015

Tuesday, April 14

DLNR Rules Linger in Governor’s Office

Thursday, April 9

NOAA Upholds Hawaii’s Ban on Shark Finning

March 2015

Tuesday, March 31

Navy War Games in the Pacific Violate Law Protecting Marine Mammals

February 2015

Wednesday, February 11

Thousands Testify on Bills to Restrict Aquarium Fishing in Hawaii

January 2015

Tuesday, January 13

New Tracking System Keeps an Eye on Commercial Fishing Fleets

Friday, January 2

Bigeye Tuna Remains on Hawaii’s Menu — But for How Long?

December 2014

Thursday, December 25

Waikiki-Diamond Head Fishing Area Closed for a Year

Tuesday, December 16

Federal Fisheries Group Uses Public Money to Lobby Against Protecting Fish

November 2014

Thursday, November 20

Hawaii’s Tuna Fishing Limits Challenged

October 2014

Tuesday, October 28

Schatz Secures Sashimi, But Ahi Still in Peril

September 2014

Monday, September 29

Marine Monument: Obama Could Have Done More to Protect the Fish

Wednesday, September 24

Obama Extends Hawaii National Marine Monument

August 2014

Wednesday, August 27

Hawaii Corals Excluded from Feds’ New List of ‘Threatened’ Species

Wednesday, August 20

Remote Islands Expansion Is a Critical Step Toward Healthy Pacific Region

Monday, August 18

UH: Mercury Levels Higher Than Expected in Sustainably Harvested Chilean Sea Bass

Monday, August 11

Should the U.S. Expand Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument?

July 2014

Thursday, July 24

Tuna, Conservation and the Race for the U.S. Senate

Thursday, July 10

Hirono Votes Against Hunting, Fishing Bill

June 2014

Thursday, June 26

A Dream Realized — Progress on Fishpond Restoration Regulations

Friday, June 6

Hawaii Ocean Programs Could Get Millions in Funding

May 2014

Tuesday, May 13

VIDEO Shows Alleged Attack on Anti-Aquarium Fishing Activist

Wednesday, May 7

Hawaii Should Brace for Major Environmental Changes, Report Says

March 2014

Tuesday, March 4

Native Hawaiian Lobbying Is Paying Dividends at Hawaii’s Legislature

January 2014

Wednesday, January 29

Some On Kauai Oppose Niihau Fishing Prohibition

Thursday, January 16

Bill Would Ban Non-Resident Fishing Around Niihau

Wednesday, January 8

State Launches New Fishing Permit Website

Friday, January 3

Pacific Bigeye Tuna Go Without Strong International Protections

December 2013

Friday, December 20

State Opens Waikiki, Diamond Head for Fishing

Tuesday, December 17

Environmentalists Sue to Restrict Navy’s Undersea Sonar and Explosive Use

Sunday, December 15

Gov Approves New Big Island Fishing Restrictions

October 2013

Tuesday, October 8

State Cracks Down on Illegal Fishing Nets

September 2013

Wednesday, September 4

Illegal Fishing in Pacific Nets $1.5 Million in Penalties

July 2013

Tuesday, July 9

Fewer Ahi, More Mahi? Fishermen Are Changing the Pacific Ecosystem

June 2013

Saturday, June 29

Land Board Bans Scuba Spearfishing in West Hawaii

Friday, June 28

Tougher Fishing Rules Considered For Kona Waters

Tuesday, June 25

Hawaii Company’s Ahi Farming Cages Headed to Canada

Wednesday, June 19

Big Fish Mystery: Why Are Big Island Reefs Suffering Such Dramatic Decline?

February 2013

Tuesday, February 12

Hirono Co-Sponsors Pirate Fishing Elimination Act

Monday, February 11

Hawaii Fishermen in Uproar About Cascade of Environmental Protections

January 2013

Thursday, January 31

Monk Seal Found With Fishing Spear in Head

November 2012

Thursday, November 8

Scientists: Climate Change Will Mean Fewer Big Fish

October 2012

Thursday, October 25

Lawsuit: DLNR Must Study Effects of Aquarium Fish Trade on Hawaii Reefs

July 2012

Monday, July 16

Coral Reefs Are Doomed, Says Scientist

Tuesday, July 10

Fishery Council: ‘Sharks Don’t Spend Any Money’

Sperm Banks For Coral? One Scientist’s Unusual Plan To Save The Species

June 2012

Thursday, June 21

Federal Fisheries Group Presides Over Pacific Ocean Policies And Politics

April 2012

Wednesday, April 11

Scientists Look to Ancient Hawaiians for Sustainable Fishing Lessons

Tuesday, April 10

Bigeye Tuna Farm Coming to the Big Island

February 2012

Friday, February 3

Humpback Whale Entangled Head to Tail in Fishing Nets off Maui, Dragging Buoys

January 2012

Friday, January 13

[VIDEO] Great White Shark Circles Fishing Boat Off Kaena Point

December 2011

Tuesday, December 13

Inouye Aims To Thwart Pirate Fishing

October 2011

Friday, October 21

NOAA: Americans Willing to Pay $33 Billion to Protect Hawaii’s Reefs

Monday, October 17

High Levels of Mercury Found in Hawaii Fish Jerky

Friday, October 14

Friend or Foam: For Hawaii’s Marine Life, Plastic Foam is a Foe