Economics Survey of Hawaii Longline Vessels Provides Valuable Data on Trends in Fishing Costs

One of the priorities of the PIFSC Fisheries Monitoring and Socioeconomics Division (FMSD) is to evaluate the economic performance of the important Hawaii-based pelagic longline fisheries that target tuna and swordfish. Significant strides have been made recently towards this objective, thanks to a program to collect economics data during longline fishing trips on which scientific observers are deployed. The project is a cooperative endeavor between the FMSD Economics Program and the Hawaii Longline Observer Program managed by the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office. Unlike the biological data collected by the contracted observers through direct observation of fishing operations, the economics data are collected by interviewing vessel operators during the fishing trip.

The program has enabled collection of economics data on a routine basis, as a secondary observer task, and has had considerable success despite the fact that observers had no previous experience with economics surveys and fishermen are not obligated to share their economic information. FMSD Economist Minling Pan has worked closely with staff of the Observer Program to improve the response rate of vessel operators over time.

Based on economic survey data, the average cost of a tuna trip in the Hawaii longline fishery rose from $12,300 in 2004 to $26,100 in 2008. Fuel makes up half of the total trip cost.

Since the project was started in August 2004, data on fishing costs and other economic information have been collected for over 1,000 longline fishing trips. The data have been entered into a database to enable queries and reports. Summarized data and time-series data generated from the database have been made available for diverse users, including fisheries managers and researchers, and an effort is underway to make the data more accessible to the general public.

The data collected provide important economic indicators of the fisheries. For example, the data showed an increasing trend in cost of tuna trips (not including labor costs) over the past five years (see accompanying chart). Over the period 2004-2008, the average trip cost in the Hawaii tuna longline fishery increased by about 112%, from $12,300 per trip to $26,100 per trip. Fuel cost made up about 50% of the total trip cost. The cost of fuel doubled during the period of study, as did the cost of other non-labor items.

The economics data collection program is continuing with the Hawaii longline fishery and will be extended to other fisheries and areas in Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

For more information contact: Minling Pan