U.S. commercial fishermen hauled in 2.5 million pounds more bigeye tuna last year than they did in 2014, landing almost all of it out of Honolulu, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

Bigeye landings in 2015 totaled 25.8 million pounds, an increase of nearly 11 percent compared to last year.

And that tuna was worth a bit more too, averaging $3.17 per pound in 2015, up from $3.08 in 2014, according to the most recent Fisheries of the United States report by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Fishermen landed 32 million pounds of seafood last year out of Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Overall, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 32 million pounds of seafood last year operating out of Honolulu, the 27th highest nationally by weight.

But that seafood — mostly bigeye tuna, which fetches top dollar in local sashimi markets and high-end restaurants — was worth $97 million, making it the sixth-highest catch in the country by value. 

Bigeye tuna continues to be subject to overfishing, however. It’s one of 28 stocks on the federal overfishing list. Only 9 percent of fishing stocks monitored by the feds are subject to overfishing, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There’s also been growing concern about who is catching these fish.

Federal officials and Hawaii’s longline industry are investigating allegations of human trafficking and poor working conditions for the predominantly foreign crew members.

So far, they haven’t found a case. But efforts are being made to address the overarching situation.

Fishermen look on as boats get inspected by Homeland Security and the United States Coast Guard. Thursday, October 20, 2016.
Longline fishermen look on as boats get inspected by Homeland Security and the Coast Guard last week in Honolulu. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Commercial fishermen who target highly migratory species, such as tuna and swordfish, are exempted from federal laws requiring 75 percent of the crew to be U.S. citizens. So on the vast majority of the roughly 140 longline boats, only the captain is American.

Foreign crew members from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and small Pacific island nations are reportedly paid a few hundred dollars a month, plus benefits. That goes a long way in their home countries but is a fraction of what U.S. commercial fishermen make in other markets.

But the biggest concern is the foreign crew members’ inability to leave their boats when docked at U.S. ports. They are given permission to fish but are denied visas and remain subject to deportation if they leave the piers.

Bigeye was the only type of tuna that was caught more last year than in 2014. Skipjack and yellowfin, which purse seine fishermen target for the canning industry, were down, as was bluefin tuna, which is overfished and receiving additional protections to help it recover.

The amount of fresh bigeye tuna being caught by U.S. fishermen went up last year while other types of tuna — such as yellowfin and skipjack, which are caught for canning — went down. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Looking at all types of tuna caught by U.S. fishermen, there was a 14 percent decrease (98 million pounds) in the overall amount from 2014 to 2015. The average price per pound also dropped to 70 cents in 2015 from 82 cents in 2014.

But Americans are eating more seafood overall. The annual federal report highlights how seafood consumption increased by nearly one pound in 2015 for the average American.

“Fishing and seafood is big business for our country. Marine and coastal fisheries contribute billions of dollars to the national economy, support 1.8 million jobs, and keep our ports and waterways open for business,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, said in a release.

“Thanks to longstanding legislation and continued innovation in fisheries science and management, we are seeing real returns on our nation’s efforts to end overfishing and make our fisheries more sustainable,” she said.

U.S. fishermen landed 9.7 billion pounds of fish and shellfish worth $5.2 billion in 2015, which federal officials said was a volume and value similar to recent years.

Read the full Fisheries of the United States 2015 report below.

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