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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

Proposal would close NW Islands lobster fishery

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A Hawai'i-based federal fishery council is recommending permanently closing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands lobster fishery, but retaining a number of other fisheries including the controversial industry that targets bottom fish.

The recommendations, approved yesterday, are part of the process in which the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve is proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to become a national marine sanctuary.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council normally advises NOAA Fisheries on the taking of fish, crustaceans and precious corals. Yesterday, it adopted a number of recommendations on how ocean resources should be managed within the proposed national marine sanctuary.

The sanctuary includes the 10 major islands and reefs in a 1,100-mile stretch northwest of Kaua'i.

The recommendations will become part of a draft environmental impact statement being prepared for the proposed sanctuary. The draft is to be complete by summer and be in final form by the end of the year.

A number of environmental organizations argue for a complete ban on all forms of fishing in the region.

"We feel that fishing is inappropriate for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," said Marti Townsend of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Hui, a collaboration of the environmentally oriented groups KAHEA, 'Ilio'ulaokalani, Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club.

Others argued that the recommended regulatory scheme is too strict. One proposal is to limit pelagic nonlongline fishing, which is not regulated in the region, to 180,000 pounds of fish a year.

Joseph Dettling operates a 70-foot boat that conducts such fishing in waters miles from shore but still within the boundaries of the proposed sanctuary.

"Our offshore hand-line fishery has never had a turtle take or a sea-bird interaction," Dettling said. "It is probably the cleanest fishery that we have. You are trying to restrict a fishery that doesn't have any environmental impact at all to the sanctuary."

The proposal to close the lobster fishery would make permanent a closure that has effectively been in place for six years, following a dramatic drop in spiny lobster populations. The crustaceans' numbers are increasing, but appear to be far below levels of 20 to 25 years ago.

The council also would establish 14 commercial bottom fish permits fewer than are in current regulations, but more than the eight boats now fishing the region. And it would limit the maximum take of bottom fish to 381,500 pounds, or 85 percent of the level the area can handle without being degraded.

One council member state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman Peter Young complained that the council's regulations appear to be increasing potential fishing pressure in the Islands, which is inconsistent with the policies of the proposed sanctuary.

"The state's position has been clear and consistent a reduction of effort and catch," he said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.