News and Updates

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Press Release – Federal Managers Finalize Turtle Interaction Measures with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (9 August 2019)

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NMFS.

HONOLULU (9 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council met yesterday to amend the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan with revisions to the loggerhead and leatherback turtle mitigation measures for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery. The amendment sets an annual fleet-wide hard cap limit on the number of leatherback turtle interactions at 16. An interaction occurs whenever a sea turtle becomes hooked or entangled in longline gear. Few interactions lead to serious injury or mortality of the animal, which is normally released unharmed. The Council did not recommend setting an annual fleet-wide hard cap for loggerheads in light of that species’ improving population trends and other mitigation measures, but the Council retains the authority to set a hard cap limit in the future if necessary.
 
To limit the impact of interactions on sea turtles and to promote year-round fishing opportunities, the Council further recommended the establishment of individual trip interaction limits of five loggerheads and two leatherback turtles. Once a vessel reaches either of these trip limits, the vessel is required to return to port, and will be prohibited from engaging in shallow-set longline fishing for five days after returning. This action is expected to allow sea turtle “hot spots” to disperse, while encouraging fishermen to take action to avoid sea turtle interactions before the trip limits are reached.
 
Additional restrictions set trip limits on each vessel – any vessel that reaches the trip limit twice for either leatherback or loggerhead sea turtles in a calendar year will be prohibited from shallow-set longline fishing for the remainder of that year. The following calendar year, these vessels will have an annual vessel limit equivalent to a single trip limit – either five loggerheads or two leatherbacks. These additional vessel restrictions are measures required under a new biological opinion (BiOp) prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
 
In the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee report, the Committee noted that in light of the BiOp finding that the fishery does not jeopardize the continued existence of these sea turtles, the additional restrictions are punitive and are not supported by the scientific information that the fishery has no adverse impacts to the overall loggerhead and leatherback populations.
 
NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto reminded the Council that it is their “mandate to minimize interactions with protected species…minimize means approach zero.”
 
“You’ve heard the expression barking up the wrong tree – we’re swimming in the wrong ocean,” said Council member Ed Watamura, pointing to the disproportionate impact that the Hawai’i fleet experiences from the US government’s strict regulations. With almost 100 percent of the incidentally hooked turtles returning to the ocean alive, the Hawai’i swordfish fishery has had negligible impact on the leatherback and loggerhead turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean, especially when considering the relative impacts from foreign fleets. Threats to loggerhead and leatherback turtles in other parts of the populations’ range include bycatch in artisanal and coastal fisheries in the Western Pacific, direct harvesting of eggs and adult turtles, nest predation by feral animals, beach nesting habitat alteration, and climate change.
 
The Council did not recommend setting a fleet-wide interaction limit for loggerhead turtles, recognizing that the status of the population has improved since the Council first recommended implementing hard caps for the shallow-set longline fishery in 2004. A recent population assessment of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles showed that the population is growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent, and the total is estimated at 340,000 individuals. Considering this population growth and the additional restrictions on trip limits, the Council found that the fleet-wide hard cap limit for loggerhead turtles is no longer necessary or appropriate to conserve the species.
 
Final action taken yesterday by the Council was a culmination of a nearly two-year process to improve measures for managing loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions in the fishery that produces nearly half of the US domestic swordfish. The process was stalled for nearly a year due to NMFS’ delay in completing the new BiOp, which was originally scheduled to be completed in October 2018. The Council’s final recommendation will be forwarded to the Secretary of Commerce, followed by a rule making process including a public comment period.
 
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Council has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands.
 
For the meeting agenda and background materials, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info@wpcouncil.org or (808) 522-8220.
 
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai'i governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawai'i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai'i); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai'i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai'i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS. 
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Press Release – Federal Managers to Make Final Recommendations on Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Interactions with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (6 August 2019)

Leatherback sea turtle. Photo courtesy USFWS.

HONOLULU (6 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet on Aug. 8, 2019, to consider final recommendations on the management of the Hawai’i swordfish fishery’s interactions with leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided a final biological opinion (BiOp) during the 178th Council meeting in June 2019 (originally due October 2018), but the Council deferred action at the time to allow adequate time to review the final BiOp.

The final BiOp determined that the swordfish fishery is not jeopardizing the continued existence of these sea turtles and authorizes the accidental hooking and subsequent release of 21 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. Based on observer data since 1994, 100 percent of leatherback turtles and over 99 percent of loggerhead turtles observed in this fishery have been released alive with a high chance of survival. Despite finding that the impacts of the fishery are not expected to appreciably reduce these two populations’ likelihood of surviving and recovering in the wild, the final BiOp requires additional measures to further reduce incidental captures and mortalities. Specifically, if the fleetwide leatherback interaction reaches the “hard cap” of 16, the BiOp requires that the fishery be closed for the remainder of the calendar year.

The final BiOp also requires implementing individual trip limits of two leatherback or five loggerhead interactions per vessel per trip. However, once a vessel reaches a trip limit twice in a year, it will be prohibited from shallow-set fishing for the remainder of the year, and the vessel will be subject to an annual vessel limit of 2 leatherbacks or 5 loggerheads for the following year. There is no hard cap required in the new BiOp for loggerhead turtles, which has a stable and increasing population.

Over the last five years in the North Pacific Ocean, approximately 99 million hooks were deployed overall in shallow-set longline fisheries annually (reported by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission). Of those, on average 1.2 million hooks (about 1 percent) are deployed annually by the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

“We know what the US shallow-set longline fishing impacts are on loggerheads and leatherbacks in the Pacific due to our 100 percent observer coverage,” remarked Council Chairman Archie Soliai. “When other countries are struggling to meet the internationally-required 5 percent observer coverage, how much confidence do we have about the loggerhead and leatherback impacts for the remaining 98 million hooks set?”

The Council’s recommendation from its 177th meeting in April 2019 was to manage the fishery under annual fleetwide hard cap limits of 16 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. The Council initially put the hard caps in place in 2004 as a backup measure when new bait and gear changes were implemented, which, along with other measures, reduced interactions by about 90 percent. The Council also recommended individual trip interaction limits of two leatherbacks and five loggerheads. Once either limit is reached, the vessel would be required to immediately return to port, after which they may resume shallow-set fishing. The original Council recommendations were much simpler and did not include additional vessel restrictions.

The Council will take all information into account, including the measures required under the final BiOp, when it considers final action this week.

The Council’s Hawai‘i Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan Advisory Panel (AP) and Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) will meet on Aug. 7, 2019, in advance of the Council meeting to discuss recommendations to the Council for the final action on managing loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

The AP, SSC and Council meetings can be attended remotely by web conference at: https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. The Council office will also serve as a meeting host site: 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu, Hawai’i. Council meeting documents available on our website (www.wpcouncil.org) include the Federal Register notice, Council meeting agenda, a summary of the action item, a draft amendment to the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, and the full Endangered Species Act BiOp from NMFS.

 Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai’i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS. 
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FR Notice – 2019 U.S. Territorial Longline Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Aug. 1, 2019)

ACTION: Announcement of a valid specified fishing agreement.

SUMMARY: NMFS announces a valid specified fishing agreement that allocates up to 1,000 metric tons (t) of the 2019 bigeye tuna limit for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to U.S. longline fishing vessels. The agreement supports the long-term sustainability of fishery resources of the U.S. Pacific Islands, and fisheries development in the CNMI.

DATES: The specified fishing agreement is valid on July 19, 2019.

ADDRESSES: The Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (Pelagic FEP) describes specified fishing agreements and is available from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu, HI 96813, tel 808–522–8220, fax 808–522–8226, or http://www.wpcouncil.org.

NMFS prepared environmental analyses that describe the potential impacts on the human environment that would result from the action. The analyses, identified by NOAA–NMFS–2019–0028, are available from https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAANMFS-2019-0028, or from Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rebecca Walker, NMFS PIRO Sustainable Fisheries, 808–725–5184.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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FR Notice – 2019 Bigeye Tuna Longline Fishery Closure (July 24, 2019)

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Temporary rule; fishery closure.

SUMMARY: NMFS is closing the U.S. pelagic longline fishery for bigeye tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean because the fishery has reached the 2019 catch limit. This action is necessary to ensure compliance with NMFS regulations that implement decisions of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

DATES: Effective 12:01 a.m. local time July 27, 2019, through December 31, 2019.

ADDRESSES: NMFS prepared a plain language guide and frequently asked questions that explain how to comply with this rule; both are available at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0085.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rebecca Walker, NMFS Pacific Islands Region, 808–725–5184.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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Contrary to Civil Beat Claims, Wespac Is Effective and Transparent

[Below is the Council’s full response submitted to Honolulu Civil Beat, including the section (highlighted in yellow) that Civil Beat redacted.]

In a series of recent articles and an editorial, the Honolulu Civil Beat made several allegations against the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, creating a false impression that Council members and staff operate with “limited oversight” and violate federal law. The Civil Beat called for an investigation into Council operations to address these purported issues.

These claims of impropriety are baseless and ignore the myriad laws, regulations, and policies that Council members and staff follow to properly implement the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our nation’s primary fisheries law, and related statutes.

This is not the first time the Council has come under attack from the Civil Beat or special interest groups for carrying out the requirements of the MSA. Similar criticisms resulted in a formal Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of the Council from 2008 to 2009—an investigation that included multiple GAO auditors working for weeks in the Council office. The GAO’s final report vindicated the Council against allegations of improper lobbying, conflicts of interest, the use of and accounting for federal funds, and council operations. It also provided some recommendations to improve transparency, which the Council has incorporated.

Criticisms are a fact of life for the Council as it implements the MSA. Fishery management in Hawaii is a controversial subject. The Council, and the scientists it employs, must analyze complex scientific issues and make tough management recommendations to protect and utilize marine resources. This is a difficult task, particularly given the vast area within the Council’s jurisdiction and the many stakeholders with different interests in our fishery resources.

What these articles and the routine criticism by special interest groups overlook is the many successes the Council has had in balancing the complexities of environmental stewardship and commercial use, which are both recognized as important considerations by the MSA. The Council’s mission is to ensure fisheries are managed at optimum yield, consistent with the conservation needs of fish stocks and protected species. To that end, the Council is doing its job and doing it well.

Gov. Ralph Torres, CNMI-R, in October 2018 received a sub-award of $250,000 to fund a fisheries training and demonstration program. “We have a really good fishing industry here, but we need a lot of technical assistance for our fisheries and our fishermen on how to fish properly commercially, how to protect and preserve the fish and how to market the fish,” he said. “We’ve been collaborating with Wespac for many years, and I am very pleased to see this project moving forward. I believe that this will help with other fishing initiatives throughout the region. We are all very excited about this project and look ahead at sustainable fishery resources and training for the benefit of our community,” Gov. Torres added.

The Civil Beat implied that some MCP projects funded by the WPSFF were selected to benefit specific Council members. Here are the facts:

  • John Gourley was not a Council member at the time that his company, Micronesian Environmental Services, received a contract. Additionally, one of the identified grants came from the competitive Saltonstall-Kennedy grant program, not through the WPSFF.

  • Dean Sensui was not a Council member when he received funding to develop a new technique he had conceptualized for observing fish underwater without human interference and to test it in a project that compared Western science and traditional knowledge around a ko‘a (natural fish aggregation site).

  • In American Samoa, Malaloa was identified as the best spot for longline dock expansion in January 2015, nearly two years before Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, one of several longline vessel owners in American Samoa, and I became Council members.

  • The Guam Organization of Saltwater Anglers and Tom Camacho, not Manny Duenas, pursued the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant fishing platform in Hagatna, a project strongly endorsed by Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo, and dedicated funds from a grant they received to pay a portion of the initial development and construction. Duenas, president of the Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association, did not benefit from the fishing platform that helps people catch fish for themselves.

 

The Civil Beat stated that the Council is “mucking around in what is clearly state policy,” citing the Puwalu (conference) involving Native Hawaiians concerned with traditional and customary fishing practices. The Council frequently works with community organizations to increase understanding of the region’s fisheries and support the MSA’s public engagement goals. The Puwalu had grassroots support, involving kupuna (elders) from every island, and was a joint undertaking by the Council and the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. It was co-funded by Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Office of State Planning, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

More about ecosystem-based fisheries management in the region and the Puwalu is available in books by Edward Glazier, published by Wiley-Blackwell (2011) and by Palgrave Macmillan (2019). Additional references include the Aha Moku article by Timothy Bailey in Fishing People of the North (Alaska Sea Grant 2012) and Conservation of Pacific Sea Turtles (University of Hawaii 2011).

Finally, the Council works closely with the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office and NOAA Office of General Counsel to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other information requests, including requests from the Civil Beat. These requests are addressed in the order received and often take substantial staff resources and time to process. Requests that are broad in scope (cover lengthy periods and/or across programs) will take much longer than requests that are narrowly focused. The Council will continue to respond to FOIA and other requests and encourages the public to review online resources, such as the Council’s website, for more information about the Council and its activities.

About the Author

Taotasi Archie Soliai of Pago Pago, American Samoa, serves as the chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. He is currently the human and government relations manager at StarKist Samoa and previously served as a member of the American Samoa House of Representatives (2007-2014). He has been a recreational fisherman for decades, and his primary fishery interest is sustainability.








Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds (3rd from left) in American Samoa with Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga (far left) and other members of the administration and Fono (legislature) at the 2013 opening of the Faga`alu Park Boat Ramp. This project was funded by the Council through a WPSFF contract and established in partnership with American Samoa’s Departments of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Public Works, and Parks and Recreation.
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FR Notice – Annual Catch Limit and Accountability Measures; Main Hawaiian Islands Deep 7 Bottomfish (June 24, 2019)

ACTION: Final rule.

SUMMARY: This final rule establishes an annual catch limit (ACL) of 492,000 lb for Deep 7 bottomfish in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) for each of the
three fishing years 2018–19, 2019–20, and 2020–21. If NMFS projects that the
fishery will reach the ACL in any given fishing year, NMFS would close the
commercial and non-commercial fisheries for MHI Deep 7 bottomfish in
Federal waters for the remainder of that fishing year as an accountability
measure (AM). This rule also makes housekeeping changes to the Federal bottomfish fishing regulations. This rule supports the long-term sustainability of Deep 7 bottomfish.
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Request for Proposals -Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Project for Protected Species Impacts Assessment for Hawaii and American Samoa Longline Fisheries


The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) is soliciting proposals for a contractor to implement an ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) project for protected species impacts assessment for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries.

Proposals must be submitted and received at the Council office by Thursday, July 11, 2019, at 5pm Hawaii Standard Time.

Please see the full RFP for details on the scope of work, proposal requirements, and submission guidelines.

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The 2018 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports are now available.

Click on the links below to view each report.  If you would like to see previous years reports, click here.

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Press Release – Hawai’i Longline Fishery for Swordfish Poses No Jeopardy to Sea Turtles, Federal Managers to Finalize Turtle Interaction Measures This Summer (27 June 2019)

Leatherback turtle. (NOAA photo).

HONOLULU (27 June 2019) A long-awaited final biological opinion (BiOp) on the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery was released today by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It shows the fishery does not jeopardize loggerhead or leatherback sea turtles.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has deferred making final recommendations on the management of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the fishery three times since October 2018 as it awaited the final document. Today it again deferred action as the 500-page document was provided to them only 30 minutes before it took up this item on its agenda.


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Press Release – Fishery Managers Recommend Removing Bigeye Tuna Quota Limit for US Pacific Territories Consistent with International Provisions (27 June 2019)

HONOLULU (27 June 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, yesterday in Honolulu, recommended removing the 2,000 metric (mt) annual catch limit for bigeye tuna caught by longline in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) for the US Pacific Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Removal of the catch limit would bring parity between the US Territories and other Territories and Small Island Developing States (SIDs) in the region. The recommendation will go the US Secretary of Commerce for approval as part of Amendment 9 to the Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Western Pacific Region.


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