The commercial fishing and seafood industry if the Hawaiian Islands is centered in the Port of Honolulu, which receives approximately 72% of the total Hawaiian fish landings. The majority of this fresh as can be fish is being sold through the Honolulu Fish Auction immediately upon unloading of the vessel.
Fish quality absolutely counts in Hawaii and thus the fish are always chilled in ice and must be landed fresh. Compared with other United States ports, Honolulu Port has a relatively low volume and fish tonnage (30th in the Natoin), but we are considered a high value fishery (8th in the Nation) with a total landed fish value of $62.0+ million.
In or around the State of Hawaii (200 mile radius), only American flagged vessels are permitted to commercially fish and deliver that fish directly to Hawaiian ports, and in particular the Honolulu Fish Market. Also, nets are never used to commercially catch open water pelagics and/ or deep water bottom fish. In fact, it is Hook and line techniques that are being used by longline, trolling, hand-line, pole & line and bottom fishing vessels when they are trying to harvest.
When it comes to quanity and quality, no one has it better than Hawaii. Our Longliners are the main producers of premium quality bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, swordfish and other open ocean fish in the U.S. Market. Longliners must fish further than 50 nautical miles from Hawaiian shorelines. In most cases, these longliners will go way off shore – beyond 200 miles – and into international waters.
When it comes to Trolling, Handlining and other Pole & Line type fisherman, these boats are primarily fishing within 1 – 30 nautical miles from Hawaiian Shores. On the Big Island, known worldwide for its abundance of Blue Marlin gamefish, fisherman are dropping their lines right outside Honokohau Harbor and very rarely go further than 10 miles offshore. Hawaiian trolling boats produce outstanding high grade/ high quality mahimahi, ono, Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin and Spearfish. The Handliners of Hawaii produce summertime yellowfin tuna and other tunas when they can be quite abundant if fished for. Pole & line boats produce premium quality skipjack (aku), which is the Hawaiian island favorite for raw fish preparations, but these pole and line fisherman will also produce a few other varieties including Opah, Rainbow Runners, Tombo’s and Yellowtail. Hawaiian Bottom fishing vessels are the fisherman producing Hawaii’s prized “Deep 7” species including, but not limited to: Onaga, Opakapaka, Lehi, Ehu, Uku, Hapu’upu’u and others.
Where Most People Fish in Hawaii
It is the Commercially registered fleet of longline boats in the Hawaiian fishery that are the main producers of line-caught premium quality bigeye tuna (ahi), yellowfin tuna (ahi), swordfish and other open ocean fish that are usually abundant in these waters. These longline fisherman are usually operating beyond 50 nautical miles from Hawaiian shoreline, often really far off shore (200+ miles) in international waters. No matter what, the Hawaii longline fleet operates in waters managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in the eastern Pacific and the Hawaiian fleet follows U.S. regulations where ever they fish, without exception. When longline fisherman are planning to fish beyond the mile territorial limit, they will usually carry with them federal observers on 100% of the swordfish trips and more than 20% of the tuna directed trips. Hawaiian Trolling vessels, hand-liners and pole & line boats mostly fish quite near to the shoreline and almost always within 50 nautical miles of any Hawaiian Island.
Hawaii has a 100-year history of Lonlining tracing its beginnings back to 1917 when Japanese immigrants to the islands introduced “flagline” fishing. The description of Flaglining is: A long mainline made of segments of tied rope set horizontally across the surface water, with multiple leaders and baited hooks, all suspended by multiple floating tubes or structures with flags; This is where you get the term “flagline” fishing. These early Japanese Flagline vessels were made of local woods and these fishermen depended heavily on the natives to obtain opelu (mackerel scad) for bait.
The quick recap and history regarding the total number of operating flagline vessels based in Honolulu and Hilo rose to 43 right after World War II. However, by the late 1970’s that number had dwindled down to just 15. Then in the 1980’s, the Hawaiian Longline fleet expanded again quite considerably, reaching 163 commercially registered longline vessels in 1991. This growth was a direct result of modern, long-range steel hull vessels from other fisheries off the U.S. mainland now joining the local Hawaiian flagline fleet. It was during this historical period of time that the flagline vessels converted to modern monofilament mainline, line setters and also the use of large hydraulically powered reels. The once “flagline” fishery evolved into what is now referred to as the “longline” method.
In Hawaii, the Longline fishing remains the main provider and source of sashimi tuna and other fish species. Today’s longline fishery has two types of operators. The vast majority will be setting their gear deep in the water column during the day (45-400m) to target bigeye tuna, which is Hawaii’s prized sashimi fish. This is done with 25-30 miles mainline,?2500-3000 circle hooks (14/0-16/0), saury and sardines bait,?light sticks not permitted,?25 hooks between floats,hook depth from 50 to 350 m.
Then during certain months of the year, some commercial fishing vessels will target swordfish, the world’s premium grilling fish. The commercial fisherman will now switch up their gear and use what is referred to as a shallow-set longline with hopes of catching the swords as they swim closer to the ocean’s surface water at night. This is done with 45 miles mainline,?850-880 circle hooks (18/0 ≤10% offset),?mackerel bait, light sticks permitted, 4 hooks between floats, hook depth from 25 to 75 m.
64% Outside US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ >200 miles from shore) in international waters.
36% Within EEZ (50 to 200 miles from shore) in federally-managed waters.
The studies, monitoring, regulations and best practices management, the Hawaiian Islands “Managed Fishery” has achieved a high level of compliance (94%) with the global standard that has been set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Trolling at a speed of somewhere between 5 and 9 knots, dragging up to (6) artificial lures or live/ dead bait from (6) fixed rod holders and outrigger positions, is by far the most popular pelagic fishing method in the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiian Trolling gear usually consists of short, stout fiberglass rods and lever-drag hand-cranked reels. Local Trolling fisherman will usually frequent the anchored fish aggregation devices (FADs) that are positioned just off shore, drifting logs or flotsam that are located, and of course also the areas where the bottom drops off sharply. As we know, this is where fish of many species types like to aggregate. Hundreds of boaters on all islands participate in this fishery, including full and part-time commercial fishermen, charter boats, and recreational fishermen. Although there are plenty of nice sportfishing boats, if you loo, around, man of the trolling boats are locals running Radon and/or Force Manufactured skiffs that range in size from 14 – 22’ in length. These boats are durable, cost effective and provide great fishing space allowing for a wide variety of customization potential for whatever fishing technique(s) the boat is primarily utilized for. The Hawaiian trolling fisherman are targeting big blue marlin, striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, mahimahi, ono and skipjack tuna and also lands incidental species such as Black Marlin, Spearfish, Pacific Sailfish, Kawakawa, Barracuda (Kaka) and Rainbow runner.
This is a very simple method of fishing that traces back to the ancient Hawaiians and involves working several single lines with baited hooks. This is not for the faint at heart as you must be ready to haul in fish that weighs in excess of 200 lbs, by hand in this traditional fishery. The Hawaiian handline fishery has always been a viable and widely used fish catching method in the islands, however it has only become commercially important since the late 1970s. In Hawaii, there are both offshore and nearshore near shore locations of the hand lining fishery, but the most abundant and consistent areas remain the Ahi Koa’s of the Big Island, or locations where yellowfin tuna are known to aggregate. Handlining technique is done from a stationary vessel, and the fisherman deploy vertical lines fixed with chum bags and baited hooks at specific places. From the surface, the fisherman are also releasing chum (cut bait) with hopes of enticing the larger ahi ( yellowfin tuna) to bite. The ika-shibi method of fishing is technique only practiced at night, whereas the palu ahi method is one which normally only practiced during the day. In Hawaii, it is also quite common for the larger boats to travel to the offshore seamounts and weather buoys (up to 200 nautical miles from shore) targeting juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna using hand line with chumming, and also at times some mixed in trolling efforts.
Pole & Line
This fishery involves two different types of fishing: 1) you must first capture live bait and 2) second to catch the skipjack tuna. When trying to catch the Aku, Chumming with live bait keeps them excited, feeding and near the boat. The local Fishermen will then use lures with feathers (very often pink or orange in color) with barbless hooks attached to bamboo poles to catch the fish. Up until the late 80’s, the pole & line fishery for Skipjack Tuna (Aku) was the main supply of fresh tuna for sashimi and also for the raw canning industry in Hawaii. From the end of World War 2, this small local fleet supplied the local tuna cannery until it closed. With the cannery gone, the “aku boat” fleet steadily declined as the old wooden sampans deteriorated. The modern commercial vessel store caught aku in refrigerated seawater, which is a rapid chilling method superior to that of using ice for the aku. This technique has added several days of shelf life to the Aku and opened up new worldwide markets for this specialty sashimi product.
Without question, Bottom fishing methods and techniques that use hand lines and baited hooks originated with the ancient Hawaiians. However, over the years, this practice has been modernized with the introduction of electric reels and line pullers, as well as flashy jigs. Bottom fishing with jigs and bait popping is a method that has been practiced in the Hawaiian Archipelago since the 1930s. As for the underwater chumming practices of the ancient Hawaiians, these also continue in the present-day fishery. Many local Fishermen will use this technique to target both deep water species (Opakapaka, Onaga, Hapu’upu’u) and mid-water species (uku) that are associated with , peaks, pinnacles and other rising bottom structure features on Hawaii’s offshore slopes and banks. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1980s that willingness to participate in the Hawaiian bottom fish fishery expanded from just a small group of full-time commercial fishermen to a much larger number of part-time fishermen. It is also important to note that since the beginning of the Hawaiian bottom fish fishery, all of the participating commercial fishermen have voluntarily agreed to rotate the fishing grounds fished, thus allowing local fish populations to recover and to with the intention of conserving the overall stock for a sustainable future. In recent years past, the sustainable limited entry fishery (in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands) was the primary source of Commercial sources deep water bottom fish. However, with the creation of the National Marine Monument that encompasses the fertile fishing grounds of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, the handful of commercial vessels that had been fishing their sustainably for years must now relocate. No one is permitted to fish these grounds. Most islands are experiencing overfishing of these sought after bottom fish species’, and have therefore imposed strict commercial catch limits with hopes of allowing these depleted fish stocks to recover.