HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii-based longline fishermen have exhausted multiple catch limits for ahi this year, but federal regulators said Friday a new agreement will ensure the fish will be available in the state through the holidays.
Regulators have approved a deal allowing Hawaii fishermen to attribute up to 1,000 metric tons of bigeye tuna catch to Guam, said Mike Tosatto, National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator for the Pacific Islands.
The agreement will enable Hawaii fishermen to keep catching ahi as usual and deliver their haul to Honolulu. In exchange, Hawaii fishermen will pay $200,000 toward the development of the fishing industry on Guam.
"We want to inform the public that fish will continue to be available through the holidays," Tosatto said.
Environmentalists say the arrangement contributes to the overfishing of bigeye tuna in the western and central Pacific.
"There's just absolutely no way to reconcile that behavior with what the science says, which is that all fishing nations — including the United States — need to show some restraint. And need to reduce catch, not increase catch, which is what the fisheries service is allowing to happen here," said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice.
The 26-member nation Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which regulates fishing from east and southeast Asia to waters around Hawaii, set a limit of about 3,500 metric tons for Hawaii longline fishermen this year.
The commission doesn't set catch limits for territories. But the fisheries service created a 2,000 metric ton limit for each of three U.S. territories — American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — then said Hawaii fishermen may use up to half of these limits.
Environmentalists argue this enables fishermen to circumvent international agreements aimed at controlling overfishing of bigeye.
Hawaii fishermen met their original bigeye catch limit for 2015, set by the international commission, in August. They resumed fishing in October, using the Northern Marianas' quota. Now they'll be able to keep fishing until the end of the year thanks to an agreement with Guam, which was finalized Wednesday.
Tosatto said the transition will be seamless to the fishing industry and consumers, for the most part.
Several environmental groups represented by Earthjustice have sued the fisheries service to stop the attribution of bigeye catch to U.S. territories. The plaintiffs argue the practice undermines international agreements aimed at eliminating the overfishing of bigeye. The case is pending in federal court in Honolulu.