post

Press Release – Fishery Council Asks for Transparent Analysis of Proposed Marine Monument Expansion

HONOLULU (5 Aug. 2016) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on Wednesday agreed to a resolution that asks the U.S. government to address a suite of concerns before acting on the proposed expansion on the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (MNM) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Council members Suzanne Case, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources chair, and Julie Leialoha, Conservation Council for Hawaii president, voted against the proposal. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto abstained.

The proposed monument expansion could prohibit commercial tuna fishing by U.S. vessels in two-thirds of U.S. offshore waters around Hawaii. (J Gilden photo)

The proposed monument expansion could prohibit commercial tuna fishing by U.S. vessels in two-thirds of U.S. offshore waters around Hawaii. (J Gilden photo)

The resolution requests a “public, transparent, deliberative, documented and science-based process” to address the proposed expansion, which could prohibit fishing in two-thirds of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), i.e., waters out to 200 miles from shore, around Hawaii. The resolution is being sent to President Obama, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Secretaries of Commerce, the Interior and State.

The Council’s resolution also requests that the U.S. government address the resources and tools needed to effectively manage and administer an expanded monument and to specify the technical, scientific and socioeconomic costs and benefits from monument expansion on marine resources, residents of Hawaii and the nation.

If any designation is made under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to proclaim an expanded monument, the Council recommends that the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act process continue to be used to develop, analyze and implement fisheries management in the U.S. EEZ waters enclosed by the monument.

Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds noted that the Homeland Security Department and U.S. Coast Guard did not receive additional enforcement assets to monitor the Pacific Remote Islands MNM after it was expanded in 2014, despite White House statements that additional enforcement would be provided.

Council members John Gourley of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) said promises made by the White House and Pew Charitable Trusts during the 2009 creation of the Marianas MNM were also not fulfilled, such as the construction of a monument visitors’ center and increased jobs, tourism and revenue.

“Hopefully the federal agency involved with the expansion will work with the Council,” said Henry Sesepasara, a special advisor to the American Samoa governor and member of the NOAA Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. In 2009 when the marine monument was established in American Samoa, its 50-mile boundary around Rose Atoll was slightly different from the 50-mile longline-prohibited area established by the Council. This misalignment led to the loss of approximately $237,000 annually to the fishery, until rectified by the Council.

All four of the nation’s marine national monuments are located in the U.S. Pacific Islands, placing about 30 percent of U.S. waters in the region as large-scale marine protected areas closed to commercial fishing. “No other region in the nation comes close to being that restrictive,” said Council Chair Edwin Ebisui Jr. According to National Marine Protected Area Center data, all other U.S. regions are less than a quarter of 1 percent no-take.

This week, the Council also began the process to specify the 2017 catchScreenshot_1 and transfer limits for longline caught, bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) for American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) conservation measures allow Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Territories to have an unlimited catch of longline-caught bigeye tuna in the WCPO. However, since 2014, the federal Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has recommended, and the Secretary of Commerce has approved, a catch limit of 2,000 metric tons (mt) per U.S. Territory of which 1,000 mt per territory can be transferred to federally permitted vessels, such as those in the Hawaii longline fishery.

The Hawaii longline fishery utilizes the U.S. quota, which is among the smallest for nations that have historically fished for bigeye tuna by longline in the WCPO.

The U.S. quota was reached early in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Hawaii fishery reopened last year with transferred quota from the U.S. Territories. The fishery closed this year on July 22. Catch-per-unit effort of 40 percent higher than normal with greater numbers and larger tuna are reasons the quota was met early. Rulemaking needed for the fishery to utilize transferred quota in 2016 has not been completed by NMFS.

The United States is the only nation in the WCPO to have shut down its fishery after reaching its quota. Three reasons for this were discussed: 1) The U.S. strictly monitors its catch and projects when the limit will be reached; 2) The limits are based on historic catches, which may not reflect current operations of some fleets, such as the significant declines in the Japanese fleet, which is awarded the largest quota; and 3) There may be questionable reporting and a lack of equivalent compliance by some countries.

The Council is expected to take action on the 2017 Territorial catch and transfer limits for longline-caught bigeye tuna in the WCPO during its next meeting, to be held Oct. 11 to 14, 2016, in Honolulu.

Other actions by the Council this week included agreeing to changes in the membership of the Scientific and Statistical Committee, Advisory Panel and Marine Planning and Climate Change Committee and approving a letter to the Department of State regarding Indonesia seafood exports to the United States and Hawaii. The letter recommends that the Department take action as appropriate due to ongoing problems with human trafficking in fishermen slaves, the significant contribution of Indonesian fishing vessels to the overfishing of bigeye tuna in the WCPO, the unreliability of Indonesia’s fishery statistics, and the unaccountably high longline bigeye catch limit for Indonesia. Taken together, these have a damaging impact on Hawaii’s seafood market and its longline fishing industry, which has become the global standard for environmentally responsible pelagic longline fishing.

For more information on the Council meeting including a complete agenda and background documents, visit www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council was established by Congress in 1976 under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. It has authority over fisheries in the Pacific Ocean seaward of the States, Commonwealth, Territories and possessions of the United States. 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 Jr. (Hawaii) (chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency Ltd. (Hawaii); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Julie Leialoha, biologist (Hawaii); Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, Port Administration (American Samoa); McGrew Rice, commercial and charter fisherman (Hawaii) (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;  Michael Brakke, US Department of State; RADM Vincent B. Atkins, US Coast Guard 14th District; and Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office.