Socioeconomic Effects of the Western Central Pacific Ocean Bigeye Tuna Fishery Closure in 2010

Background and Study Description

On November 22, 2010, Hawaiʻi's bigeye tuna fishery in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) neared its annual quota and was closed for the remainder of the year. The Hawaiian longline fleet had two weeks from the announcement of the closure to land the remainder of their catch from the WCPO. In 2009 the fleet had reached their quota only days before the end of the year, so 2010 marked the first time that the fishery had experienced a closure of extended length due to a quota. The timing of the closure during the holidays, a culturally important time of year for tuna consumption in Hawaiʻi, raised many concerns about potential effects on fishermen, wholesalers and retailers, consumers, and others connected to Hawaiʻiʻs seafood industry.

In November 2010, PIFSC Social Research Project Manager Dawn Kotowicz and former PIFSC Social Research Project Manager Laurie Richmond began a study examining the socioeconomic impacts of the bigeye tuna fishery closure. They attended the Honolulu fish auction twice weekly to observe reactions and responses to the closure in real time. Richmond and Kotowicz solicited comments from and conducted unstructured interviews with auction employees, buyers, retailers, fishermen, consumers and business owners in the fisheries industry, such as gear and ice shops. They compiled this qualitative data and combined it with quantitative information regarding auction levels and prices from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program's multi-year monitoring of retail prices at Oahu outlets.

Different stakeholder groups in the seafood industry expressed varying concerns regarding the closure. Five fishermen or vessel owners expressed great concern about the added costs and logistical challenges associated with having to shift operations to areas that remained open while the WCPO was closed, namely, the Eastern Pacific ocean. Traveling to the Eastern Pacific takes approximately 5 days each way and can utilize close to 1,500 gallons of fuel, which greatly increases cost. Some fishermen reported that this required them to keep fish in their holds longer than they'd like, reducing the quality of their catches and leading them to reduce their time in fishing grounds in order to return before fish spoiled. In addition, several fishermen stated that they had little experience fishing in the Eastern Pacific this time of year, so they faced a steep learning curve in figuring out how to fish in the area. Some said that as a result their catches had higher levels of non-bigeye tuna species such as opah and included more smaller-sized tuna which receive lower prices and are not generally targeted.

Three fishermen expressed support for a conservation approach to bigeye management. However, they are concerned that the Hawaiʻi longline fishery is being heavily regulated while other fisheries, such as the purse seine fishery and international longlining fleets, can continue to exploit the resource.

Several fish buyers were greatly concerned with potential changes in the price, quality, and quantity of tuna during a time of year that traditionally brings their highest revenue. Several buyers reported that both the quantity and quality of bigeye tuna appeared to be down this year compared to others and they contributed this to the constraints of the closure which forced vessels to fish in the East. Buyers noted that lower supplies of tuna forced them to pay higher prices for tuna of lower quality. One buyer stated that he had trouble explaining the increased prices to his clients. He said, "how can you serve someone filet mignon one week and a burger the next and then convince them that it should cost the same". Some buyers worried that these kinds of changes in fish supply and quality could impact their ability to maintain relationships with clients in Hawaiʻi, the mainland, and abroad who expect a steady flow of quality fish.

Many stakeholders expressed concerns that a reduction in supply linked to the closure could cause channels of imported tuna to gain greater and potentially sustained footholds in the Hawaiian market.

Some impacts of the closure may have been mitigated by blizzard conditions on the East Coast which kept the supply up for seafood in Hawaiʻi's local markets because tuna could not be air-freighted. Impacts of a closure could be more significant in years when distribution to major markets is not a problem. Differing responses to the closure highlight the importance of getting the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders. For example, bigeye tuna buyers and consumers are not generally engaged in fishery policy processes, but can be significantly affected by changes in fishery policy. Richmond and Kotowicz continued interviews with stakeholders to observe market impacts after the bigeye fishery in the Western Pacific reopened as well.

Summary Data Products

Socioeconomic Impacts of the 2010 Bigeye Tuna Longline Fishery Closure

Publications

Richmond L, Kotowicz D, Hospital J
2015. Monitoring socioeconomic impacts of Hawaiʻi's 2010 bigeye tuna closure: Complexities of local management in a global fishery Ocean & Coastal Management 106: 87-96. DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2015.01.015

Presentations

Kotowicz D, Richmond L
2011. Socioeconomic Impacts of the 2010 Bigeye Fishery Closure: A Preliminary Analysis. Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: 106th Meeting of the Scientific and Statistical Committee. Honolulu, HI. February 23.
Kotowicz D, Richmond L
2011. Socioeconomic Impacts of the 2010 Bigeye Fishery Closure: A Preliminary Analysis. 150th Council Meeting. Pago Pago, American Samoa. March 10.
Kotowicz D, Richmond L
2012. Hawaiʻi's longline fishery — Monitoring Adaptations of a Fishing Community. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. New York, NY. February 26.