Disappointed by Fishing Story

April, 2014

As a longtime reader of Hawaii Business, with a lifetime of experience fishing in Hawaiian waters, I was very disappointed in Dennis Hollier’s cover piece in the February 2014 issue, “How Fish Get From the Sea to Your Plate.” It was nothing more than a puff-piece for the Hawaii Longline Association.

By way of background, I was born and raised in Hawaii, have fished our waters since the 1950s, have written about fishing in Hawaii and across the Pacific since the 1970s, and have been involved with fishery-management issues locally, nationally and internationally since 1976. I also served on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council for three years when Sean Martin was chair and was appointed to serve on the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission.

Unfortunately, Hollier’s piece is rife with errors and ignores or garbles the following facts, among many others:

  1. Hawaii’s recreational fishery is far more economically valuable than its commercial fishery.
  2. Hawaii’s charter sportfishery has a larger number of vessels and a comparable economic value to the longline industry.
  3. The vast majority of the swordfish caught by Hawaii-based longliners are sold outside Hawaii, only rarely landing on the plates of your magazine’s readers.
  4. The influx of longliners to Hawaii in the 1980s was prompted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which had made millions of dollars in fishing-vessel loans to increasingly insolvent fishermen working collapsing fisheries, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. The NMFS was protecting its loan assets and assumed that the tuna/swordfish fishery here would sustain the fleet it repositioned long enough to pay off the loans.
  5. The commercial fishery in Hawaii dates back to well before World War I (not World War II, as Martin is quoted as saying). Gorokichi Nakasuji from Wakayama Prefecture in Japan imported the first wooden-hulled fishing sampan to Hawaii in 1899. As early as 1913, sampans were fishing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and longlining (“flag lining”) was being practiced by Japanese sampan fishermen as early as 1917, the same year the Hawaiian Tuna Packing Co. was founded (Hollier calls it Hawaii Tuna Packers).
  6. The surge of longlining in Hawaii, starting in the mid-1980s has measurably reduced the quality of the catch for Hawaii recreational, sustenance, subsistence and charter/sport fishermen, all but eliminating large swordfish as an angling target accessible to small-boat and charter-boat anglers. In the same time frame, the size of the largest tuna available to the recreational fleet has also declined.
  7. The once significant small-boat commercial fishing fleet that dates back to the turn of the 20th century has been largely displaced by newcomers that arrived in the mid-1980s and have largely controlled the WESTPAC management process in Hawaii.
  8. Bottom fishermen do not use poles, as Hollier suggests, and they sometimes use hydraulic reels and they do not often choose “big powerful outboard motors,” preferring dependable, long-lived diesels motors.
  9. “Upheaval in the longline fishery,” particularly early on, also came from conflicts with other commercial, sustenance, subsistence, recreational and charter fishermen in Hawaii, many of whom were continuing a multiple-generations-old fishing tradition. Those conflicts continue today and it is a disservice to the other fishermen not to mention the extent and nature of these conflicts, which have largely been ignored by WESTPAC.
  10. Hollier states “albatross are an endangered species,” while in fact, not all albatross are considered endangered. Moreover, “albatross” is/are not a “species.” Finally, the black-footed albatross is the “endangered species” of most concern in the longline fishery.
  11. Regarding science Hollier states: “But for Hawaii waters, observer data are sometimes the only data available to fisheries managers.” That is not correct; fishery managers always have access to historical data (back to the late 19th century in Hawaii), as well as to log-book data, to fish-auction data and to NMFS-research-vessel data, both current and historic. He then goes on to state, “One of the main uses of the observer data has been to help researchers assess the health of the fish stock of Hawaii longline and bottomfish fisheries.” There is virtually no observer data for our bottomfish fisheries because there is no requirement that bottom-fishing vessels carry observers.

I could go on and on, paragraph by paragraph, but I think I’ve made my point. You have done a huge disservice to Hawaii Business readers by publishing an error-riddled story and perpetuating some of the self-serving myths of the Hawaii longline industry and the WESTPAC, while ignoring the many other local fisheries that deliver fish “from the sea to your plate,” not to mention those fisheries that provide sport, recreation, subsistence and/or sustenance to the majority of the people of Hawaii.

—Rick Gaffney, President 
Hawaii Fishing & Boating Association


Editor’s Note: We welcome Rick Gaffney’s letter and we stand corrected on the albatross, bottom-fishing methods and other facts he cites. We feel other facts Gaffney mentions were outside the scope of the article and others are contentious subjects. For instance, the original article quotes contradictory statements from two sources on what happens to swordfish caught in Hawaii waters.

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Rick Gaffney