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Press Release – Federal Fishery Managers Recommend Removal of Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas in the Main Hawaiian Islands, Voice Concern about Billfish Conservation Act Proposed Amendments (16 March 2018)

HONOLULU (16 March 2018) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded its three-day meeting today with a variety of management measures and administrative decisions for federal fisheries in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands Areas.

Hawaii: The Council reiterated its position based on input from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that the State of Hawaii should remove all of the Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas (BRFAs) extending into federal waters. It strongly recommended the closures in State waters also be removed. The opening of all BRFAs is supported by the recent outcome of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s benchmark stock assessment, independent peer review of the assessment and ongoing statewide independent bottomfish research that has determined that the stock complex of seven significant deep-water bottomfish is and has been healthy prior to and throughout the period that the BRFAs have been in place. The Council offered support in developing a plan to improve data collection when the BRFAs reopen.

Billfish Conservation Act of 2012: The Council will write to the Secretary of Commerce to communicate the Council’s concerns with the proposed amendments to the Act, which proponents have described as being a “technical amendment” to fix an existing loophole. The legislation would equate Hawaii billfish landings as foreign catch and ban the sale of Hawaii caught billfish in the US mainland, which would serve no conservation purpose. The proposed amendment contradicts Secretary Ross’ initiative to combat the US seafood trade deficit as more than 500,000 pounds of Hawaii caught billfish are marketed in the US mainland annually.

US Territories’ Specified Fishing Agreements: The Council will explore options to facilitate the direct transfer of funds from Specified Fishing Agreements between US Participating Territories and Hawaii longline vessels permitted through the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, which are provided by Quota Management Inc.

Guam: The Council requested that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service, Homeland Security and NOAA Enforcement provide federal funding for law enforcement to have a separate dock in Guam’s existing boat marinas.

Mariana Trench Marine National Monument: The Council requested that NMFS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service provide an update on the monument’s management plan and timeline for completion, including public commenting options, at the June Council meeting.

CNMI: The Council agreed to encourage the Mariana Visitor Authority to utilize the Council-produced Fishers Code of Conduct to create a brochure to be issued to visitors upon arrival to ensure proper care of the fishery resources in CNMI.

American Samoa: The Council recommended the American Samoa Government look into NOAA’s derelict vessel fund to assist in removing the grounded vessels including the foreign longline vessels in Leone and Pala Lagoon.

The Council is mandated by Congress to manage fisheries operating seaward of State/Territory waters in the US Pacific Islands. Regulatory recommendations by the Council are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.

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); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, 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): RADM Vincent B. Atkins, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS