HONOLULU Commercial fishing has sharply depleted numbers of several species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and threatens the health of the pristine island chain's ecosystem, according to a private study released Monday.
Populations of the opakapaka, or Hawaiian pink snapper, have plummeted 90 percent in 10 years, according to the Ocean Conservancy and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute.
Stocks of the hapu'upu'u, or the Hawaiian grouper, have sunk 64 percent over the same period in the 1,200 miles of islands and atolls northwest of Kauai, according to the study.
"There is little doubt they are being depleted far below a state of ecological health," said Dennis Heinemann, one of the study's authors.
The federal body responsible for fishing rules around the island chain criticized the study as biased against fishing.
The study used simple proxies rather than true estimates of fish populations, said Paul Dalzell, the senior scientist for the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.
"That is a selective and partisan use of the information by the organizations," he said. "It is not a peer-reviewed scientific publication. It is purely their own interpretation of the information."
Nine bottomfishers working around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, primarily in federal waters, bring in a catch worth about $1.5 million each year.
Last month, Gov. Linda Lingle declared state waters around the islands a marine refuge and banned fishing three miles from the islands' shorelines.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning to designate the area the country's 14th National Marine Sanctuary and U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, has proposed banning fishing in the area.