Oahu (Tues., 1/20/09): Spending Inauguration Day with Tuna and Monk Seals
by Lindsey Feldman -- January 21st, 2009
Our day began at 5:30 am and by 5:00 pm our brains were overflowing with information on marine management in the Hawaiian archipelago-but never enough information that we stopped asking questions.
The Honolulu Fish Auction
Our trip to the Honolulu Fish Auction started out in darkness as we stumbled our way towards the van at 5:30 am. As much as we didn’t like the idea of waking up before dawn, the Fish Auction started at 6 am and we didn’t want to be late. When we stepped into the cold and surprisingly clean auction, our senses were awoken by the fish on ice all around us and the sounds of the auctioneer and buyers. It was a slow day at the auction and the catch from only two boats was on the floor — in total around 15,000 pounds of fish. We slowly meandered from fish to fish, the big, shimmering, glassy-eyed yellow fin tuna caught our eyes first but we learned that it’s the Red Snapper that fetches the highest price this time of year. The Lunar (Chinese) New Year is approaching and fish buyers explained to us that red is the color of good luck and eating Red Snapper ensures a prosperous start of the New Year. Nevertheless, it’s the Bigeye, Yellowfin, and Albacore tuna that are the most expensive fish at the auction — we watched in awe as just one fish was sold for $1,300. Eventually the auction came to a close and we headed off to breakfast and to watch Obama’s inspirational inauguration speech. With fish conservation on our minds, watching Obama’s speech was especially moving as we look forward to a new perspective on marine conservation and management.
Longline Fishing from a Fishers Perspective
After breakfast we met with Sean Martin — a longline-fishing vessel owner in the Hawaiian fleet. He owns six longline vessels that primarily fish for tuna, but also are permitted to fish for swordfish. Graciously, he gave us a tour of his relatively new (only four-years-old), beautiful boat, talked with us about the longline industry and gave us a glimpse into the fisher perspective of fisheries management in the Hawaiian archipelago.
Sean’s job is to catch fish, and to catch a lot of it. Each trip lasts around 18-19 days in which tens of thousands of baited hooks are set — each set consists of 40 miles of line and hooks using fish as bait. We picked Sean’s brain on a diverse range of fisheries management issues including seabird and marine mammal bycatch, enforcement and observer coverage, international fisheries regulations, gear regulations and Marine Stewardship Council certification. It was interesting and encouraging to learn that Sean’s boats use many of the recommended sustainable fishing practices for the industry. The boats set the fishing gear off the side of the boat (called side-setting) so that by the time the hooks reach the stern, the bait is too deep for albatross to feed on, and albatross and other sea birds interact with the gear less often. After bombarding Sean with questions and listening to him educate us on everything we could possibly want to know about the longline fishery, we left Sean alone and hurried off to the NOAA offices to bombard them with questions instead.
NOAA-PapahanamokuakeaMonument and Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
Randy Kosaki gave us an overview of how the Monument was created, the cultural significance of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands for native Hawaiians, the many species which are native to only the Hawaiian islands and the management challenges of such a large and remote area. The most intriguing part of Randy’s talk was how the Monument was designated under the Antiquities Act instead of the National Marine Sanctuary Program, which presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for managing the area. The management plan for the Monument just came out and will soon be available here. Thea Johanos from the Protected Species Division of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center spoke to us about monk seals, in particular about endangered monk seal and Galapagos shark interactions. We had a passionate discussion about how to stop the monk seal population from declining even further and the best way to protect the newborn pups from shark attacks.
After asking a lot of questions and realizing how difficult protecting an endangered species can be for both scientists and marine managers, we were inspired to learn even more about issues facing the species within the Monument ecosystem.
After an exhausting inaugaration day meeting with fishers, managers, and scientists throughout the entire Hawaiian archipelago, we could only cross our fingers and hope that the Obama administration will be an ally in marine conservation efforts.