Recreational fishing in federal waters off Hawaii requires registration
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Many of the estimated 192,000 Hawai'i residents who fish in federal waters for food or sport are required to register under a new program aimed at learning more about the nation's recreational fish catch.
The requirement to sign up with the National Saltwater Angler Registry, which went into effect Jan. 1, affects recreational fishermen in Hawai'i because the state is one of 10 coastal states and territories that do not have a marine recreational fishing license.
"To protect the stocks, we have to know how many fish are killed both by commercial and recreational fishermen. The only real way to measure recreational catch is through doing surveys of recreational fishers, and the only way to do a survey is to know who they are and have the ability to contact them," said Bill Robinson, administrator of NOAA Fisheries' Pacific Islands Region.
The span of ocean from three to 200 miles out to sea, where fishermen troll for 'ahi, marlin, wahoo, mahi-mahi and other species, is federal waters.
Those who limit their fishing activities to state waters within three miles of shore do not have to register. Neither do commercial fishermen or charter operators, who are licensed under separate rules, or anyone younger than 16.
Registration is required annually, and no fee is being charged this year. However, an annual fee of between $15 and $25 will go into effect in 2011.
Native Hawaiians who fish are required to register but will be exempt from the fee under a provision for "indigenous people."
Some local residents who fish are wary of additional regulation that might further restrict their activities, and Robinson said reaction to the new registration requirement "is mixed."
"There are some recreational fishermen who would like to see the state have a licensing requirement and some who don't want any kind of license or registration. And there are some fishermen who understand that in the long run we'll be better able to manage fish stocks for sustainability," he said.
Lisa Hamada, whose family fishes on their 25-foot boat almost every weekend, weather permitting, said she doesn't have a problem with the registry.
"I think it's pretty obvious our waters are getting overfished. Anything within reason that can be done to keep that going, where everyone can benefit and enjoy the water, would be a good thing," said Hamada, vice president of the Waianae Boat Fishing Club.
She said her family catches only what they can eat.
"If we have a big pot of fish, we stop. We don't wait for the fish to stop biting," she said. "But I know there are other fishermen who just keep going and figure out later what they're going to do with all the fish."
Kailua, Kona, fisherman Neal Isaacs doesn't see a need for a registry because he believes that recreational fishing has a small impact on the fish stocks in federal waters.
"The recreational guys just don't have the ability or the hours to fish more than a few miles north or south. We don't cover much area and it's mostly catch-and-release," he said.
Isaacs, who owns Anxious Fishing Charters, said he spends about 150 days a year out fishing on his 33-foot boat, half the time for business and the other half for sport.
He said he lands an average of 60 to 65 marlin annually and releases 90 percent, keeping only those that die before being hauled out.
"I can understand it for the commercial guys because they're the ones catching large numbers of fish. But for the recreational fishermen, I just feel that it's basically a lot of work and you're not going to gain anything and it's going to cost us money," he said.
NOAA Fisheries delayed for a year the start date of the registry to allow states, including Hawai'i, to qualify for an exemption by establishing a comprehensive license or survey program. Recreational fishing enthusiasts in the 15 coastal states that have such programs are automatically included in the National Saltwater Angler Registry.
Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources chairwoman Laura H. Thielen would not say whether the state plans to file for an exemption.
"We are meeting with NOAA to discuss options," she said.
The saltwater angler registry is a component of NOAA Fisheries' Marine Recreational Information System, a new data collection and analysis initiative that represents a shift away from single-species management of fisheries to an approach based on evaluating entire ecosystems.
The registry will be used to survey those who fish — anglers and spearfishers — to obtain a more comprehensive and detailed picture of numbers of fishing trips, number and species of fish caught, where and when fish are caught, and the economic impact of recreational fishing.
You can register online or by calling a toll-free telephone number. You will be asked to provide your name, birth date, address and telephone number. Officials said the entire registration pro- cess should take only two minutes.
NOAA Fisheries estimates there are 329,000 people fishing recreationally in Hawai'i, including 137,000 visitors.
According to the latest data, recreational fishing took 4.7 million fish from state and federal waters in 2008, weighing a total of 28 million pounds.
Commercial fishing, by comparison, harvested nearly 31 million pounds.
Hawai'i's recreational fishermen spend $751 million annually on tackle, charters, boats, vehicles and other fishing-related expenses and generate more than 7,000 jobs, the agency said.
Anglers and spearfishers are not required to report their catch to the registry, and only a random sampling of registrants will be contacted for surveys, according to Robinson.
NOAA Fisheries is not interested in tracking the activities of any individual angler, he said.
"There's no way we would ever use the information from fishing surveys on an individual basis. We simply want to know the universe of fishermen and do a random survey of them to get a better estimate of what the catch is," Robinson said.
DLNR's Division of Aquatic Resources and NOAA Fisheries have been collecting recreational fishing data since 2001 through the Hawai'i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey, which relies on a phone survey of random households and data collected at shorefishing sites, boat launch ramps and small harbors.
The current survey methods are not providing adequate information to be useful to fisheries managers, according to Robinson.
"Prior to this registration requirement, we basically had to survey the phonebook, and 90 percent of people in the phone book don't fish. You get a very small sample of fishermen in the survey and the accuracy is very poor," he said.
Robinson also said the Hawai'i Marine Recreational Fishing Survey is heavy on data from nearshore fishing in state waters.
NOAA Fisheries said the improved data will help demonstrate the economic value of marine recreational fishing and provide a more complete picture of how recreational fishing is affecting fish stocks.
"One of the common concerns we hear from recreational fishermen is that the fishing isn't as good as it used to be," Robinson said. "The benefit to Hawai'i fishermen is that we would have sufficient information to know how big the catch is and be able to manage the fish stocks for long-term sustainability. That's what we're looking for.
"We want sustainable fishing so everyone can fish for a long time."
The registry of anglers was recommended in 2006 by an independent review by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences as a way to improve surveys of recreational anglers to help manage and rebuild fish stocks.
"There are some areas of the country, such as the Gulf and southeast Atlantic, where the recreational catch is larger than the commercial catch, and there was a strong push to try and get a handle on that," Robinson said.
"We think recreational fishing in Hawai'i is pretty substantial, too. It's a pretty popular activity."
Fishing is more than a sport in the state, which has the lowest catch-and-release rate in the nation — an indication of the importance of subsistence fishing here, according to NOAA Fisheries.
The agency, which has limited enforcement resources in Hawai'i, acknowledges it will need the assistance of state agencies and the Coast Guard in enforcing the registration rule.
Penalties for failing to register are under consideration.