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Press Release – Scientists Weigh-In on Management of US Pacific Island Fisheries

HONOLULU (16 October 2017) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) concluded its three-day meeting Thursday in Lihue, Kauai, with a suite of recommendations on managing fisheries in Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands Areas. The Council will consider the recommendations from the SSC and its other advisory bodies at its 171st meeting to be held Oct. 17-19 in Utulei, American Samoa. The SSC recommendations on the major agenda items are as follows:

American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) options: The SSC considered options to allow US-flag longline vessels over 50 feet in length to fish within portions of the LVPA. The scientists noted that an LVPA exemption would reduce regulatory barriers that may be unnecessarily impeding fishing efficiency while still separating large and small vessels to reduce potential for gear conflicts and catch competition. Other factors to consider are impacts on local markets from competition, preventing damaging gear interactions with shallow water banks and the potential for increased protected species interactions when closer to the shore. With regards to cultural fishing, the SSC noted its previous recommendation that focused on how landed catch is distributed and used for cultural reasons related to an individual’s service to the aiga (family) and matai (chiefly) systems in support of Fa‘a Samoa (Samoan way of life). The SSC recommended that the Council consider alternatives that address the large vessel economic situation while also preventing gear conflicts and supporting preservation of cultural fishing opportunities. It also recommended adjustments to the logbook and creel survey designs to allow for the collection of more information, such as sold and unsold proportions of the catch. The SSC also recommended that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) socioeconomics program consider conducting surveys of American Samoa residents on the issue of cultural fishing as well as documenting fish flow from small and large vessels.

American Samoa Longline Permits modifications: The SSC had no objections to the proposed amendments to the permit program and recognized positive aspects of the proposed modifications. The amendments would eliminate elements of the permit program that may be preventing new entry in the fishery as well as reducing the regulatory burden on small vessel participants.

Annual Catch Limits for 27 Coral Reef Fish Species in the Main Hawaiian Islands: The SSC considered the stock assessment of 27 species of coral reef fish in Hawai‘i and other recent studies. The scientists recommended the following acceptable biological catches (ABC) for the species: 2,243 pounds for kumu (Parupeneus porphyreus); 36,600 pounds for mu (Monotaxis grandoculis); 65,595 pounds for toao (Lutjanus fulvus); 127,205 pounds for uku (Aprion virescens); 238,758 pounds for roi (Cephalopholis argus); 459,800 pounds for opelu (Decapterus macarellus); 464,950 pounds for ta‘ape (L. kasmira); and 1,025,000 for akule (Selar crumenophthalmus). The SSC did not recommend an ABC for ‘u‘u (Myripristis berndti) due to a lack of reliable catch data and other concerns. The SSC recommended ABCs for several fish families: 9,800 pounds for reef sharks (Carcharhinidae); 20,100 pounds for mullets (Mugilidae); 21,178 pounds for jacks/ulua (Carangidae); 35,400 pounds for coral reef crustaceans; 38,200 pounds for mollusks (e.g., octopus and crabs); 108,600 pounds for rudders (Kyphosidae); 158,740 for goatfish (Mullidae); 211,000 pounds for wrasses (Labridae); 380,050 pounds for parrotfish (Scaridae); and 496,085 for surgeonfish (Acanthuridae). For the remaining coral reef species, the SSC recommended a combine ABC of 496,500 pounds. The Council uses the ABCs to determine annual catch limits (ACLs) for these species.

Annual Sea Turtle Interaction Limits in The Hawai‘i-Based Shallow-Set Longline Fishery options: The SSC considered options regarding the annual limits, also known as “hard caps,” on loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the Hawai‘i shallow-set longline fishery. The SSC recommended removing the hard cap measure because it is arbitrary, not supported by biological data and may result in increased overall turtle interactions in the Pacific when imports increase as a result of the Hawai‘i fishery being closed. The SSC noted that a fleet communication mechanism to notify vessels when there are high levels of interactions may be appropriate, such as used in Alaska. The SSC also noted that the Hawai‘i longline fishery is the only fishery in the United States that is managed under a hard cap for species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Offshore Aquaculture: The SSC considered action to establish a federal management program to develop a sustainable aquaculture industry in the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters around American Samoa, Hawai‘i, Guam, CNMI and the Pacific Remote Island Areas. The program would provide a framework for the Council and NMFS to review and authorize where, how and how much aquaculture is developed and to regulate and manage aquaculture activities in the EEZ. The SSC recommends that the program include the following:

  • Mandatory permits for aquaculture operations, with consideration given towards allowing transferability and potential bundling of siting, operations, and dealer permits.
  • Aquaculture permits possess a use it or lose it provision.
  • Aquaculture permits cover a designated time period of at least 5-years and be renewable.
  • No specific restriction imposed on allowable aquaculture systems but that the chosen systems are thoroughly documented in the permits to address breakage and navigational hazard concerns.
  • Aquaculture zoning and monitoring be established with careful attention towards minimizing fishery conflicts and negative environmental impacts especially in habitat areas of particular concern.
  • The culture of species listed in the Fishery Ecosystem Plans for the Western Pacific Region or that naturally occur in the area, while noting that some existing aquaculture operations of exotic species are quite successful and safe, such that this species constraint might be revisited in the future.
  • Aquaculture operations maintain thorough records of production, escapes, recaptures, protected species interactions, safety, gear conflicts, gear failure, disease, brood stock, and water quality monitoring.
  • Aquaculture operations exist under measures that can be framework and an Aquaculture Advisory Panel be established.

 

Fishery Species in Need of Conservation and Management: Under each of the Council’s FEPs is a list of management unit species, whereby conservation and management measures apply. The SSC reviewed these lists to determine the need of each species for federal conservation and management and whether some species could be reclassified as Ecosystem Components or removed from the Fishery Ecosystem Plans. The SSC recommended classifying species based on factors described in the guidelines for National Standard 1 in the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act and to retain species in the FEPs.

Gold Coral: A moratorium on the harvest of gold coral was established in 2008 due to discrepancies in growth estimates for the species in the Western Pacific Region. This moratorium was continued in 2013 due to the need for additional information and study of gold coral growth rates. The SSC recommends extending the gold coral moratorium, which will expire in 2018. The extension would provide time for other management options, such as ACLs or a prohibition (permanent moratorium) given the vulnerability of this species, to be considered and implemented by the Council. The SSC further recommends that, if any future commercial harvest is envisaged, further work on growth rates be undertaken as a priority to resolve the disparities between various growth rate estimates.

For the additional information, go to www.wpcouncil.org/category/upcoming-council-and-advisory-body-meetings/ or email info@wpcouncil.org or phone (808) 522-8220.

Scientific and Statistical Committee: James Lynch (chair) (K&L Gates LLP); Debra Cabrera (St. John’s School, Guam); Frank A. Camacho (University of Guam); Milani Chaloupka (University of Queensland); Erik Franklin (Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology); Shelton Harley (Ministry for Primary Industries, NZ); Ray Hilborn (University of Washington); Justin Hospital (NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center); David Itano (fisheries consultant); Donald Kobayashi (NMFS PIFSC); Steve Martell (SeaState Inc.); Domingo Ochavillo (American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources); Ryan L. Okano (Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources); Graham Piling (Secretariat of the Pacific Community); Kurt Schaefer (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission); Craig Severance (University of Hawai`i at Hilo, retired); Michael Tenorio (CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife).

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai`i governors: Edwin Ebisui Jr. (chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai‘i); Eo Elvin Mokoma, fisherman (American Samoa); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawai‘i); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa). Designated state officials: Anthony Benavente, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai`i Department of Land & Natural Resources; Matt Sablan, Guam Department of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasra, American Samoa Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): Matthew Brown, USFWS; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; RADM Vincent B. Atkins, USCG 14th District.