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Press Release – Federal Fishery Managers Question Proposed Rule on Green Sea Turtles, Address Allocation of US Tuna Catches

HONOLULU (18 June 2015) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council today in Honolulu  heard a series of recommendations from its advisory groups opposing and questioning the March 20, 2015, proposal by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list the green sea turtle population in Hawai’i waters as threatened and the populations in waters around American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. 

The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and Protected Species Advisory Committee noted a lack of transparency in the criteria used to make the status determinations, questionable interpretation of existing research and gaps in information considered. The SSC, for example, said the proposal to continue to list the Hawai’i green turtle as threatened is contrary to analysis that showed zero chance of decline in the population in the foreseeable future. The Advisory Panel members in American Samoa said they opposed the proposed endangered listing for the turtle population in their waters as there is insufficient justification for it. Advisory Panel members from Hawai’i and the CNMI recommended that consideration be given for a cultural take by the indigenous people of these islands. The Council adopted the recommendations of its advisory groups for inclusion in its comment letter on the proposed rule.

The public comment period for the proposed rule, originally scheduled to end on June 22 with the only public hearing in the Pacific Islands to be held April 8 in Honolulu, has been extended to July 27. Public hearings will be held in American Samoa, CNMI and Guam on July 6, 13 and 15, respectively. NMFS indicated that no other public hearing will occur in Hawai’i.

Among other actions today, the Council made several recommendations to address increasingly restricted catch limits on US purse-seine and longline vessels in the Western and Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The Council recognized that the combination of the US high seas purse-seine effort limits by the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the removal of historic levels of fishing days in Kiribati waters available under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty (SPTT) may be resulting in reduced supply of tuna offloaded directly to the Pago Pago canneries by US purse-seine vessels. The Council recommended that NMFS and the State Department improve the current terms of the SPTT with regards to Pago Pago-based US purse seine vessels. The Council also recommended that NMFS consider developing regulations that would allow fishing effort or catch from Pago Pago-based US purse vessels to be attributed to American Samoa but without an increase in bigeye landed by these vessels.

Under the WCPFC, the US territories of American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI, as well as the Pacific territories of other nations, are treated as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) for most purposes. As such, they are not subject to bigeye tuna catch limits by the WCPFC. However, the WCPFC has posed increasingly restricted catch limits of bigeye tuna on the US longline fleet (i.e., the Hawai’i longline fishery), from 3,763 metric tons (mt) last year to 3,554 mt this year to 3,395 mt scheduled for 2017 in the WCPO.

While the WCPFC has not imposed catch limits on the US territories, the Council has established bigeye tuna catch limits of 2,000 mt for each territory. The Council today recommended that the United States develop a national WCPO bigeye tuna catch limit that would apply to US purse-seine and longline fisheries and consider including the catch limits provided for the US Territories. This could achieve greater flexibility in managing the impact of US fishermen on bigeye tuna while meeting the WCPFC’s conservation objective.

Regarding the CNMI Joint Military Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)/Overseas Impact Statement, the Council requested that the Department of Defense extend the comment period to Dec. 4, 2015 (Chamorro Standard Time), in order to allow affected CNMI stakeholders to fully understand and discuss the results of the independent review of the DEIS by consultants contracted by the CNMI government with funds awarded by the Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. The current deadline is Aug. 4, 2015 (Chamorro Standard Time).

The Council was established by Congress under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 to manage domestic fisheries operating seaward of State waters around Hawai`i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Pacific Island Remote Island Areas. Regulatory recommendations by the Council are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval. For more on the Council actions, email info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or phone (808) 522-8220.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Appointees by the Secretary of Commerce from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai`i governors: Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Edwin Ebisui (Hawai`i) (chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency Ltd. (Hawai`i); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Julie Leialoha, biologist (Hawai`i); Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, Port Administration (American Samoa); McGrew Rice, commercial and charter fisherman (Hawai`i) (vice chair); and William Sword, recreational fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair). Designated state officials: Suzanne Case, Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources; Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources; Richard Seman, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; and Matt Sablan, Guam Department of Agriculture. Designated federal officials: Matthew Brown, USFWS Pacific Islands Refuges and Monuments Office; David Hogan, US Department of State; RAdm Cari B. Thomas, US Coast Guard 14th District; and Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office.