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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2001

Hawai'i's Environment
New fish size limits proposed

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Among the prime suspects for the lack of fish in nearshore waters is too much fishing. Fisheries experts say one of the other reasons is that the fish being overfished are often far too small. They may be a legal catch, but they're too tiny to reproduce.

Some fishery experts for years have proposed reconfiguring minimum sizes so that at least some of the fish are big enough to reproduce before they can be caught.

"Many of the existing regulations were adopted by legislatures decades ago (as far back as the 1920s) for reasons that are often difficult to determine," the state Division of Aquatic Resources said in its fact sheet on new proposed fishing regulations.

Under proposed regulations being taken around the state for public comment, fishery biologists hope to establish catch sizes that will guarantee at least half the fish of any species will have reached sexual maturity by the time they are of legal size for catching.

For some fish, it doesn't involve a change. Manini, for example, can be caught at 5 inches in length, and are sexually mature at 4 to 6 inches. It's roughly the same with aholehole.

Weke, moano and 'oama are legal at 7 inches, and that is about the size at which some of them are mature.

But for other fish, there's a big difference proposed.

Moi can now be caught at 7 inches, but the smallest moi capable of reproducing are just short of 9 inches long, and some can't reproduce until they're nearly 14 inches long. The new regulations propose setting the minimum catch size at 11 inches.

Kumu need to be more than 10 inches long for some of them to reproduce. The proposal is to set the size at 11 inches.

There are several species of ulua and papio, and their sexual maturity can come at as small as nearly 15 inches or as large as 32 inches. It is now legal to take them for home consumption at 7 inches, and for sale at 1 pound. The new regulations would change that to 12 inches for home and 16 inches for sale.

Uhu or parrotfish would go from 1 pound to 12 inches as the minimum size, and night spearing would be banned. These interesting creatures are all females when they're small and become males when they're larger. Take all the small ones, and there can't be reproduction.

Another change important to anglers and divers is that catch size will be measured from the nose to the base of the fork of the tail, where in the past it was from nose to the end of the tail.

The size limit changes are the first of several proposals for overhauling the way the state regulates fisheries, in hopes of promoting their recovery.

For more information on the regulations, contact your local Division of Aquatic Resources office.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. You can call him at (808) 245-3074 or e-mail jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.