Research Addresses Social Impacts of Hawaii Bigeye Fishery Closure

Ahi on the auction floor.
Ahi on the auction floor.

On November 22, 2010, the Hawaii longline fleet's bigeye tuna (ahi) fishery in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) neared its annual catch limit established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. As a result, NMFS prohibited bigeye catches by the fleet in the WCPO for the remainder of the year. The Hawaii longline fleet had two weeks from the announcement of the closure to land the remainder of its catch from the WCPO. In 2009, the fleet reached the catch limit only days before the end of the year. The more lengthy closure in 2010 just before the holidays, an economically and culturally important time of year for tuna consumption in Hawaii, raised many concerns about potential effects it would have on fishermen, wholesalers, retailers, consumers, and others connected to Hawaii's seafood industry.

Since the closure only applied to bigeye tuna caught in the WCPO, fishermen from Hawaii could still harvest tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) — waters east of longitude 150°W. However, the EPO is about 500 miles from Honolulu, much farther away than preferred fishing areas for this time of year. Additionally, 12 boats have longline permits for both Hawaii and American Samoa. These boats could fish in the WCPO outside of the 200-mile EEZ of Hawaii — still farther than preferred fishing grounds, but much closer than the EPO.

In November 2010, PIFSC Human Dimensions Research Program social scientists Dawn Kotowicz and Laurie Richmond began a study of the socioeconomic impacts of the bigeye tuna fishery closure. The study involves attending the Honolulu fish auction twice weekly to observe reactions and responses to the closure. Richmond and Kotowicz are conducting interviews with auction employees, buyers, retailers, fishermen, consumers and business owners in the fisheries industry, such as gear and ice shops.

As bigeye fishing in the WCPO resumed with the start of 2011, Richmond and Kotowicz planned to continue conducting interviews with stakeholders to observe market impacts. They will compile the qualitative interview data and combine it with other information, including quantitative data on prices and other variables collected from the auction and data from the Economics Program’s multi-year monitoring of retail prices at Oahu seafood outlets.