Cooperative Research Key to Successful Start of Annual Bottomfish Survey in Hawaiʻi

September 17, 2020

For many years, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center has relied on cooperative research fishers as part of our survey efforts. This year, we couldn’t do it without them.

Captain Layne Nakagawa of the F/V Naomi K holding an ehu. Photo courtesy of Pacific Islands Fisheries Group/Fishing Vessel Naomi K. Captain Layne Nakagawa of the F/V Naomi K holding an ehu. Photo courtesy of Pacific Islands Fisheries Group/Fishing Vessel Naomi K.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting many aspects of our lives and has increased pressure on the local Hawaiian fishing community. During these challenging times, we are relying on our ten-year cooperative research partnership with the local fishing community to continue survey operations critical to fishery management. The annual Bottomfish Fishery-Independent Survey in Hawaiʻi (#BFISH) became operational in 2016. It has provided important local abundance estimates used in the Main Hawaiian Islands Deep 7 Bottomfish Stock Assessment.

Early morning Maalaea Harbor, ready to go! Captain with an uku.
Early morning Maalaea Harbor, ready to go! Captain with an uku.

One difference between BFISH and many of our other research missions is its foundational partnership with the local fishing community. In addition to work done from the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, local bottomfishers typically conduct two-thirds of the overall sampling effort. They use up to six commercial fishing vessels distributed among the main eight Hawaiian islands. These cooperative research fishers are contracted through Lynker Technologies and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Group. They conduct hook-and-line sampling using a design developed in partnership with PIFSC scientists. This year, they have stepped up to the plate and are conducting 100 percent of the sampling.

Cooperative Research Fishers aboard FV Ao Shibi IV off Hawaii Island.
Mike Abe and Gary Shirikata sampling off the island of Hawai'i on August 15, 2020. They are holding four 'opakapaka, one lehi, and one hapu'upu'u. Photo courtesy of Mike Abe.

Working Together Safely 

These small, open-deck fishing vessels are crewed by only a few people. They are a safer alternative to larger platforms, such as NOAA ships. All parties are following Center for Disease Control-recommended precautions to make sampling as safe as possible. Most of the vessels will be operating to and from neighbor islands, where COVID cases remain lower than in more populated regions. All crew members conduct self-evaluations with temperature checks each morning and wear masks at all times.

While our partnership with the local community has always been important, this year it has been critical to the continued success of the survey. Research fishing operations began in mid-August 2020 and will run through the end of November. Research fishers are conducting hook-and-line sampling at 453 locations across the main Hawaiian islands. They will be deploying the MOUSS stereo-video camera system at 47 locations around Oʻahu and Penguin Bank.

A map showing the locations of the fall 2020 BFISH sampling stations, including fishing and camera stations.
A map showing the locations of the fall 2020 BFISH sampling stations, including fishing and camera stations.

Thanks to the perseverance of these local fishers, PIFSC will be able to maintain a continuous data stream for the Main Hawaiian Islands Deep 7 Bottomfish Stock Assessment. This will allow managers to set sustainable commercial catch limits for the fishery.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on September 17, 2020