Sashimi shortage appears unlikely
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The federal government could order a halt on fishing for bigeye tuna around Christmas because of newly implemented catch limits, but officials say there should be enough fish for those wishing to ring in the New Year with traditional platters of sashimi.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently implemented a rule that will reduce by nearly 10 percent the amount of bigeye tuna caught, to 3,763 metric tons.
The restrictions cover longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific for 2009, 2010 and 2011. Once the limit for each year is reached, fishing for bigeye tuna will be stopped.
Mike Tosatto, deputy regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said projections show that the limit will be reached later this month, possibly the final week of the year. He said a determination should be made by the end of this week or next week when the shutdown will occur.
The fishing limits are necessary, Tosatto said, because bigeye tuna is over-fished globally. The catch restrictions will not affect fisheries in American Sämoa, Guam or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Although fishing for tuna may stop just short of New Year's Day, Tosatto said residents shouldn't be overly concerned that there will be a shortage of sashimi.
"We know that if we make it into the the last week of December, while boats might not be able to fish, the fish would start working its way back into Honolulu," Tosatto said. "The fish auction, the wholesalers, the restaurants, all should continue to have bigeye available from this industry."
Scott Barrows, general manager of the Hawai'i Longline Association, agreed that there should be fish this year. If the fishery is closed, he said, longline boats will head to the Eastern Pacific for tuna.
"There will be sashimi around," Barrows said. "It really depends how the fishing is to the east if they do close it down."
He said several Hawai'i-based fishing boats anticipated the closure and are fishing in the Eastern Pacific. These vessels will likely return to Honolulu with their catch in time for New Year's celebrations.
Barrows added that wholesalers may bring in cheaper imports should the fishery be closed. But he said you can't beat the fish caught by local fishermen for freshness and quality.
Because the holiday season is the most profitable for local fishers, the Longline Association has asked NOAA to switch from a calendar year to a 12-month period that begins in September to determine catch limits.
"That's basically a really good time for the industry, right around New Year's," Barrows said "It's not a great time to shut it down."