(c) Deron Verbeck
By Jennifer Stahl, December 18, 2020
Ted Toriano has been fishing his entire life. During all those years on the water, he has had his hands in every kind of fishing method you can do around the Big Island. This wealth of knowledge on Hawaii local fisheries continues to grow as he continues to go out fishing 1 to 2 days every week. Ted recollects how fishing has changed during his lifetime of fishing around the Big Island. In the early days, he remembers fishing for ahi by trolling or at koas—areas where ahi naturally aggregated around ledges or some other topographic feature seasonally and were visited daily by fishermen to feed the fish. However, the landscape is different now with more fishermen and the addition of artificial structures that concentrate fish. These include fish aquaculture pens near Kona where Kampachi (type of amberjack) are raised and a lot of buoys that act as fish aggregating devices (FADs). These include FADs installed by the State and others that are installed by individuals for private or personal use. He believes the ahi get “stuck” at these artificial structures and don’t frequent the nearshore koas as they did in the past.
Nowadays, ahi fishermen focus their efforts around these FADs and fish pens where fish congregate. However, they are not the only fishers in these areas; they share these fishing grounds with pelagic sharks that are also attracted to the same structures. Ted believes he sees more sharks these days while fishing at FADs and the fish pens, especially Oceanic whitetips that tend to spend a lot of time at the surface. He says “The sharks are going to come where the food is. If you have artificial structures, then you are going to see more sharks.” Because sharks tend to concentrate at FADs, fishermen may have the perception that there are more sharks than ever. On the contrary, Oceanic whitetip populations are declining globally and considered as threatened on the endangered species list.
With fishermen and sharks both sharing FADs and pens as their fishing grounds, it can make it difficult for fishermen to land ahi without having a shark take their catch. When fishing at the pens, Ted avoids sharks eating his ahi by moving away from the main barge by at least 300 yards before he pulls in his fish. He also has noticed that the shark interactions at the fish pens, like the fishing, varies with the current. On a north current he expects more sharks at the pens. This type of information is really interesting for us, as we try to find strategies to help fishers avoid shark interactions, and is exactly what we are hoping to learn from those that are actually ‘out there’ regularly.
Since collaborating with the Hawaii Community Tagging Program, Ted now tags sharks that he catches. He has tagged a couple sharks with acoustic tags and another with a satellite tag. He attempted to tag another very large, female Oceanic whitetip. But instead of getting the tag in (he couldn’t penetrate the skin), he learned a little lesson on shark biology—female sharks have skins that are about 10 times thicker than males to protect them during mating as males grab hold with their teeth! He also likely faced an extra challenge with this large, older female as sharks likely get thicker skin with age.
Ted’s motivation to make the effort to tag sharks is to see the data. He is now interested more than ever to learn where these sharks go, if they are residents and hang around the islands or if they travel out into the greater Pacific Ocean. He was intrigued to discover that one of his sharks with an acoustic tag was intermittently detected at several FADs across the state rather than hanging around just one FAD.
Ted also encounters sharks while fishing for bottomfish. He sees schools of inshore sharks, such as sandbars, and more recently has noticed a pair of tiger sharks that hunt together (an uncommon occurrence) and seem to hang around the bottomfish grounds. All these sharks may take his catch as an easy meal. But he avoids feeding the sharks and giving them the opportunity to depredate his catch by continuing to move around while bottomfishing. He also notices that the shark encounters on the bottomfish grounds seems to vary with the location and the season. He sees more sharks in the main bottomfish grounds where fish are more concentrated and where the sharks “normally live”. He also believes sharks are more abundant in the bottomfish grounds in late fall and winter, but are not as problematic starting around April and through the summer.
Ted recognizes that sharks are here for a reason and that they fulfill an important ecological role. Local fishermen call the shark the “tax collector”. No one really wants to pay their taxes, but at the same time, many of us recognize taxes pay for essential services. Likewise, these sharks play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem whether it is in nearshore waters or offshore pelagic environments. While many fishermen complain about the “tax collector”, Ted continues to tag these sharks to learn more about where they go and what they do and hopes that they don’t end up endangered or extinct. We look forward to working with Ted as he promises to spend a lot more time on the water when he retires from his day job in the near future. Thanks so much Ted for all of your assistance and insight over the last couple of years, it has been very valuable.