Please select your home edition
FBW submit news (top)

Keepin' it reel: when your catch of the day is not what you expected

by NOAA Fisheries 20 Mar 16:20 UTC
Hawaiian monk seal RKA6 resting on the beach with a hooked lip © Gary Langley

NOAA's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program regularly writes about hooked seals here in Hawai?i, but this time our stories aren't about seals. Instead, they are about hooked and entangled seal biologists!

Earlier this summer, I met up with a socially distant dive buddy to check out Haleiwa Trench on the North Shore of O'ahu. We were about 300 feet offshore, surface swimming out to our dive site, when I noticed a cowbell ringing non-stop in the distance. I was lagging behind my dive buddy despite my best efforts, but I chalked it up to the current and conditions. The cowbell continued to ring and I turned towards the shore to see what was going on. The noise was coming from a bell mounted on a fishing pole, and I was actually quite excited to see what the fisherman had on his line that was making such a ruckus.

Unfortunately... it was me! It suddenly dawned on me that I was directly offshore from where the fishing line should be. Upon further inspection, I found a large circle hook embedded in my right fin. Despite the fact that I was snorkeling and the visibility was good, the clear line was nearly impossible to see in the water. The hook in my fin was at such an awkward angle that my dive buddy had to come over to help me remove it. Luckily, we didn't have to cut the line and the fisherman was able to reel his gear back in. My sincere apology to the fisherman who may have thought he had something big on his line. I hope you were able to catch something a little more exciting than a discombobulated diver.

Similarly, my coworker David was paddling in his OC1 canoe a few weeks ago about a mile offshore of the west side of O'ahu, between Pokai Bay and Makaha. A trolling fishing boat crossed his path 500 yards in front of him with several lines in the water, but the boat was far enough away that he thought nothing of it. After a minute or two, David noticed that he was paddling forward in the water, but wasn't making any progress. He chalked it up to a weird current or maybe the wake from the boat.

Suddenly, he started moving backwards! One of the fishing lines was caught around his canoe's steering rudder. David's paddling buddy quickly jumped into the water and pulled the line off of David's rudder, freeing him. The fishing boat saw what happened and came back to check it out, and they all had a good laugh about a successful "catch and release" program.

You may have noticed that more and more people are fishing around Hawai'i these days. Hawaiian monk seals have certainly noticed, and we have had all hands on deck for several months now, responding (when safe to do so) to reports of hooked seals. The State of Hawai?i DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources also has concerns about a recent increase in harmful interactions between fishers and Hawaiian monk seals. On average, about 15 hooked seals have been reported annually between 2015 and 2019.

In 2020, the number of reports has nearly doubled, with 27 hooked seals reported as of mid-October.

When a seal is reported as hooked here on O'ahu, our partners at Hawai'i Marine Animal Response (HMAR) mobilize their team to locate the seal in question. Once they arrive on site, they send us an initial report of the situation. Then, we often send someone from our team out to do a thorough assessment of the seal and determine what, if any, intervention is needed. Check out our veterinary technician Claudia Cedillo's presentation on the Ins and Outs of Hawaiian Monk Seal Hook Removal to learn more about some of our past lifesaving interventions.

Hooks and fishing line can be threats to seals. If the fishing line is longer than a few feet (3/4 fathom), it can get wrapped tightly around the seal and cause entanglement injuries or impair a seal's ability to haul out on shore to rest. Fishing line can get wrapped tightly around a seal's neck, muzzle, flippers, and even around the tongue, which happened in 2012 to R5AY, known locally as "Honey Girl."

Fishing line attached to a seal can also get caught and if the seal can't break or bust the line, the seal may get trapped underwater where it could drown or on land where it could overheat. The location of the hook on the seal is also important. A hook in the corner of a seal's mouth may be similar to a lip piercing in humans and may have limited impacts, but an ingested hook can be deadly.

We know fishing is good fun and important for food and livelihood here in Hawai?i. We also know accidents happen! It's common to have gear get stuck on the seafloor while fishing, and you may need to break your line. Unfortunately, gear left behind, especially with bait still on the hook, may still be fishing long after you're gone, and may catch fish, seals, and turtles. Try to minimize the amount of line left behind, and consider using barbless circle hooks or flattening the barb of your hooks to allow an accidentally hooked animal a better chance to free itself. Here's more information on fishing around seals and turtles.

If you catch a monk seal on your line, or see a hooked or entangled seal, there is no need to panic. Call NOAA's statewide hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

We need to know as soon as possible so we can work with our partners to mount the right response. The hotline operator will ask you questions about the seal and its size, the type of gear used, the beach location, and any other identifying features of the seal or area. It's actually preferred that you self-report if this happens—the more information we know about the interaction, the better. In fact, reports from fishermen actually saved the lives of several seals in 2019.

While David and I were both hooked this year, our interactions ended positively for everyone involved. This can be the case with seals as well! The coexistence of fishing gear and protected species is possible with a little bit of care and quick reporting.

Related Articles

Ask Marine Recreational Information Program
Answering your questions about recreational fishing data collection Saltwater anglers, for-hire captains, and other members of the recreational fishing community often ask how we collect recreational fishing data, and how we use that data to estimate total recreational catch. Posted on 21 Jun
Engaging anglers to improve catch practices
NOAA is working to better understand catch and release tools and support fish restoration projects NOAA's Deepwater Horizon restoration partners at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission selected three new partners to conduct studies on reef fish restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. Posted on 20 Jun
NOAA continues the fight against illegal fishing
Highlighting efforts to combat IUU fishing around the world This day was declared by the United Nations to raise awareness about IUU fishing and its threat to the sustainability of the world's ocean resources. Posted on 14 Jun
Help us improve communications about fishing
NOAA Fisheries is looking for participants to engage in a voluntary survey to help the agency Are you a saltwater recreational angler residing in Atlantic or Gulf coastal states from Maine to Mississippi? Would you like to participate in a voluntary, anonymous survey to help us more effectively communicate with anglers? Posted on 29 May
NOAA Fisheries releases key reports
Two new reports highlight the continued rebuilding and recovery of U.S. fisheries Today, NOAA Fisheries announced the release of two new reports: the Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries and the 2019 Fisheries of the United States Report. Posted on 23 May
New web tool aims to reduce whale entanglements
NOAA scientists have combined the latest data on ocean conditions and marine life off the West Coast NOAA scientists have combined the latest data on ocean conditions and marine life off the West Coast on a new data tool. It gives fishermen and fishery managers up-to-date ecosystem information that may help reduce the risk of whale entanglements. Posted on 8 May
See what recreational fishing is all about
Recreational fishing generates billions of dollars of economic activity throughout coastal community NOAA Fisheries is producing a new series of video shorts focusing on recreational fishing across the country and how we support one of America's favorite pastimes. Posted on 18 Apr
How much is a clam worth to a coastal community?
A new study looks at the value of the water quality benefits provided by shellfish aquaculture A new study estimates that oyster and clam aquaculture provides $2.8-5.8 million in services that remove excess nitrogen from the coastal waters of Greenwich, Connecticut. Posted on 11 Apr
Warm water is important for cold-water fish
Cold-water fish need both warm and cold water habitats at different parts of their life cycle Warm river habitats appear to play a larger-than-expected role in supporting the survival of cold-water fish, such as salmon and trout. This information was published today in a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Posted on 3 Apr
Importance of fishing in American Samoa
New video series features important contributions of recreational and non-commercial fishing NOAA Fisheries is proud to release We Fish! American Samoa. We collaborated with local fishermen and fishing communities to tell the story of recreational and non-commercial fishing in American Samoa. Posted on 29 Mar
FBW submit news (top)