News and Updates

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FR Notice – Pacific Tuna Fisheries; Procedures for the Active and Inactive Vessel Register (April 16, 2019)

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.
SUMMARY: NMFS is proposing regulations under the Tuna Conventions
Act of 1950 (TCA), as amended, to implement International Maritime
Organization (IMO) requirements in Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) Resolution C–18–06 (Resolution (Amended) on a Regional Vessel Register) and amendments to existing regulations related to the IATTC Regional Vessel Register (Vessel Register) for purse seine vessels fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). The proposed rule would expand the IMO number requirements to include certain categories of smaller U.S. vessels fishing for tuna and tuna-like species in the EPO. The proposed rule would also modify regulations associated with the Vessel Register and prohibition and incidental catch provisions. These revisions would provide more clarity and make U.S. regulations more consistent with the IATTC management framework, while allowing controlled operational flexibility for the U.S. industry.

DATES: Comments on the proposed rule and supporting documents must be submitted in writing by May 16, 2019.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA–NMFS–2018–0030, by any of the following methods:

• Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0030, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

• Mail: Submit written comments to Daniel Studt, NMFS West Coast Region Long Beach Office, 501 W Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802. Include the identifier ‘‘NOAA–NMFS– 2018–0030’’ in the comments.

Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure they are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change.

All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).

Copies of the draft Regulatory Impact Review and other supporting documents are available via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, docket NOAA– NMFS–2018–0030, or by contacting Daniel Studt, NMFS West Coast Region, 501 W Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802, or emailing WCR.HMS@noaa.gov.

Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this proposed rule may be submitted to the NMFS West Coast Region Long Beach Office at the address listed above, by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov, or by fax to (202) 395–5806.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Daniel Studt, NMFS, West Coast Region, 562–980–4073.

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Press Release – New Turtle Limits Recommended to Re-Open Swordfish Fishery (15 April 2019)

HONOLULU (15 April 2019) Federal fishery managers on Friday concluded its nearly year-long effort to provide relief to the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council at its 177th Meeting held on April 12, 2019, recommended revised fleet-wide sea turtle interaction limits along with new individual trip-based interaction limits. A recent draft Biological Opinion (BiOp) developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided managers with a basis for a new limit for loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions, potentially allowing the fishery to be re-opened this year. The fishery closed this year on March 19 due to interactions with 17 loggerhead turtles, all of which were released alive.

Every vessel for every trip of the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery has a federal observer that ensures accurate monitoring of interactions with protected species. The North Pacific loggerhead population is growing annually at 2.4 percent, but a court settlement in May 2018 reduced the fishery’s allowable interaction with the species from 34 to 17. The cap of 17 may be modified when NMFS finalizes the new BiOp for the fishery and issues new regulations based on the Council’s recommendations.

In June 2018, the Council recommended annual limits of North Pacific loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions consistent with what was set forth in the upcoming BiOp. The draft BiOp released on March 28, 2019, requires NMFS to set an annual limit of 36 loggerhead turtles and 16 leatherback turtles for this fishery. The Council recommended these limits to be implemented under regulations for the Council’s Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and further recommended that the existing turtle interactions occurring from January 1 to March 19, 2019, apply toward the new limits, essentially allowing the fishery to re-open.

The Council maintained its June 2018 recommendation to implement an individual trip limit of five loggerhead turtles, and additionally recommended a trip limit of two leatherback turtles. If a vessel reaches either of the limits during a fishing trip, the vessel must return to port but would be allowed to target swordfish again on the next trip.

The Council’s recommendation was in contrast to annual vessel-based limits of six loggerhead turtles and two leatherback turtles that NMFS is proposing in the draft BiOp, which would prohibit vessels from targeting swordfish for the remainder of the year if they reached their individual limit. The Council found that this measure would create undue economic hardship to the fishery while providing little additional turtle conservation benefit.

Roger Dang, whose family has fished with longline vessels out of Hawai’i for more than 30 years, criticized the vessel limit proposed in draft BiOp. “This is not the solution,” he said. A vessel limit of two leatherback interactions would deter vessels from entering the shallow-set fishery to target swordfish and thus diminish the fleet’s ability to provide swordfish for the US domestic market, he explained. “Ecuador in the last year, from 2017 to 2018, increased its production by almost 100 percent, Costa Rica 80 percent, and they’re both bigger fisheries than the Hawai’i product,” Dang added. “The majority of the swordfish product in the US right now is the South American product.”

“The Council’s recommendation today, although highly restrictive on the fleet, will allow Hawai’i vessels to continue supplying fresh, highly monitored swordfish while supporting industry-led solutions to addressing rare sea turtle interactions in the fishery,” said Eric Kingma, executive director of the Hawai’i Longline Association. Dean Sensui, the Council’s Hawai’i vice chair, added “The actions taken by the Council today ensures that Hawai’i’s fishermen continue to provide fresh sustainable seafood to the community and at the same time adds additional protection for sea turtles in the Western Pacific.” The Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery operates in waters North of Hawai’i and catches swordfish that is sold both in Hawai’i and the US Mainland. It produces approximately half of the US domestic swordfish.

For the agenda and background materials on the meeting, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220. The Council was established by Congress in 1976 and has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI and the Pacific remote islands. Recommendations that are regulatory in nature are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and then implemented by NMFS and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.

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); Michael Duenas, fisherman (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing (CNMI); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’i). Designated state officials: Suzanne Case, Hawai’i Department of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muna-Brecht, Guam Department of Agriculture; Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Department 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.

Click PDF for printable version

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Press Release – New Dates, Times for Meeting to Address Sea Turtles Interactions with Hawaii Longline Fishery for Sustainably Caught Swordfish (29 March 2019)

HONOLULU (29 March 2019)

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has announced that the Biological Opinion (BiOp) Review Advisory Panel meeting scheduled for April 2 and the 177th Council meeting scheduled to be held April 4 have been postponed. The new date and time for the BiOp Review Advisory Panel is April 12 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST). The agenda is review of the BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish. The new date for the Council meeting is April 12 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (HST) or noon to 3 p.m. Samoa Standard Time and April 13 from 9 a.m. to noon Chamorro Standard Time. The meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The Council will discuss the Draft BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish as well as management of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in that fishery (final action).

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The Hawaii longline swordfish fishery closed on March 19 after it interacted with the 17th loggerhead turtle for the year. All of the turtles were released alive. The fishery has 100 percent observer coverage, i.e., a federal observer is on every vessel on every trip to monitor protected species interactions. This observer coverage level is extraordinary and an order of magnitude higher than other competing fishing nations. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission requirement is only 5 percent coverage, which most other nations have not met. The United States also operates with measures to reduce and report bycatch at levels that other fishing nations do not implement.
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“Closure of this healthy, underutilized fishery is not only an economic loss for the Hawaii fishery but also has no discernible stock conservation benefit for the Pacific,” notes Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds. “The catch from the Hawaii fleet will be supplanted by the catch from foreign fleets that have far less monitoring and bycatch mitigation.”
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The United States was usurped by Taiwan in the late 1990s as the second leading fishing nation to harvest North Pacific swordfish (Japan leads in landings) as US landings declined. The Hawaii fishery accounted for between 55 percent (2017 and 2008) to 34 percent (2012) of the US domestic swordfish landings.
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Projections of the stock through 2026 along with recommendations by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean determined that the stock is not fully utilized and could withstand a significant, yet sustainable increase in harvest. Such an increase in harvest of about 50 percent from recent catches to near maximum sustainable yield would maintain a healthy stock.
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The North Pacific swordfish stock was assessed in 2018 and determined to be nearly double spawning stock biomass at maximum sustainable yield (87 percent over SSBMSY) with fishing mortality determined to be less than half of fishing mortality at maximum sustainable yield (45 percent of FMSY). Spawning stock biomass has increased nearly by 10,000 metric tons since 2000 and has not breached below its commonly used biological reference point (SSBMSY) in any year in the stock’s assessment timeline (1975-2016). The stock had only been considered to be experiencing overfishing (breaching FMSY) in 1993.
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Lack of supply from the sustainable Hawaii shallow-set fishery may increase pressure on other swordfish stocks to meet market demands. This may have inadvertent consequences to stocks, such as those in the Atlantic, that are not as healthy as the North Pacific stock.
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The BiOp Review Advisory Panel meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The host site is the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu. The teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220. The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov.
The 177th Council meeting teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220.
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The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. Host sites are a) Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu; b) Native American Samoa Advisory Council Office Conference Rm., Pava’ia’i Village, Pago Pago, American Samoa; c) Guam Hilton Resort and Spa, 202 Hilton Rd., Tumon Bay, Guam; and d) Department of Land and Natural Resources Conference Rm., Lower Base Dr., Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
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For the agendas and background materials on the meetings, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.
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The Council was established by Congress in 1976 and has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI and the Pacific remote islands. Recommendations that are regulatory in nature are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and then implemented by that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.
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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); 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); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawaii) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing (CNMI); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii 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 Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.
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FR Notice – Closure of the 2019 Hawaii Shallow-Set Pelagic Longline Fishery (March 28, 2019)

SUMMARY: This final rule closes the Hawaii shallow-set pelagic longline fishery north of the Equator for all vessels registered under the Hawaii longline limited access program. The shallow-set fishery has reached the annual limit of 17 physical interactions with North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, so NMFS must close the fishery for the remainder of the calendar year, or until further notice. This action is necessary to comply with regulations that establish maximum annual limits on the numbers of interactions that occur between longline fishing gear and sea turtles.

DATES: Effective March 27, 2019, through December 31, 2019. Compliance date: 9:50 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HST) on March 19, 2019, through December 31, 2019.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Harman, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office, 808–725–5170.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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Press Release – Federally Managed Fisheries in US Pacific Islands Face a Mixed Future (21 March 2019)

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Executive Director Kitty Simonds (center) with Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council members (from left) Vice Chair John Gourley (Northern Mariana Islands), Chair Archie Soliai (American Samoa), RAdm. Kevin Lunday (commander of the 14th US Coast Guard District) and Vice Chairs Dean Sensui (Hawai‘i), Christinne Lutu-Sanchez (American Samoa) and Michael Duenas (Guam).

HONOLULU (21 March 2019) Federal fishery managers concluded their meeting in Honolulu today after dealing since Tuesday with a mixed bag of good and bad news about the future of fisheries in Hawai‘i and the US Pacific islands.

On the good side, a 2018 stock assessment estimates the Hawai‘i Kona crabs maximum sustainable yield at 73,069 pounds. The fishery has reported catch below 3,000 pounds in 2015 and 2016, indicating the potential for a lot of growth. However, participants have left the fishery (which landed 70,000 pounds in the 1970s) since the State of Hawai‘i banned the retention of female Kona crabs. The Council recommended that the Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) record female crab and minimum size discards separately on the fisherman trip reports to provide a more comprehensive record of commercial catch. It also requested that DAR remove the statute that prohibits take of female Kona crabs and consider revised regulations to extend or shift the closed season to protect berried females.

Other good news is that a recent economic report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found the Hawai‘i charter fishery generated close to $50 million in gross sales and supported nearly 900 jobs statewide in 2011. The Council encouraged NMFS to maintain a regular schedule of economic evaluations and monitoring of the fisheries in the Pacific islands.

On the bleaker side, the Council discussed the ongoing UN Intergovernmental Conference on Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which is considering a framework to establish fishing closures on the high seas. The Council asked the Department of State, which has a non-voting representative on the Council, to exempt high seas fisheries targeting tuna and tuna-like species from any potential high seas closures established under the new BBNJ convention. About 70 percent of the fishing effort of the Hawai‘i based longline fishery is on the high seas.

Besides area closures, the fisheries of Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are dealing with Congressional legislation that have restricted the sale of billfish and may prohibit the commercial sale of legally caught sharks. The Billfish Conservation Act amendment that was signed into law in 2018 requires that billfish caught by fisheries in Hawai‘i and the US Pacific Islands territories must be retained in the islands. The legislation closed the islands’ access to established high-end markets for billfish on the US mainland and in foreign countries. Swordfish is excluded from the billfish definition under the Act. The Council has asked NMFS to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts on US Pacific Island fisheries from the 2018 amendment. As for sharks, the Council is writing to the Secretary of Commerce regarding the proposed legislation, as it appears to conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and existing federal regulations that allow and require the sustainable harvest and landing of whole sharks.

The Council believes that public understanding about the socioeconomic importance and employment opportunities that fisheries afford to the islands needs to be improved. Therefore, it revised its fishery capacity-building memorandum of understanding with local and federal fishery agencies to include grade schools as well as higher education institutions.

For the agenda and background materials on the meeting, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.

The Council was established by Congress in 1976 and has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai‘i, Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI and the Pacific remote islands. Recommendations that are regulatory in nature are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and then implemented by NMFS and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (acting chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawaii) (vice chair); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Edwin Watamura (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii 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 Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.

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Press Release – Managers, Fishermen Grapple with Federal Pace, Definitions Leading to Fishery Closures (20 March 2019)

HONOLULU (20 March 2019) At 9:40 a.m. yesterday, minutes after Kitty M. Simonds completed the executive director’s report to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, the Hawai’i-based fishery was closed due to the fishery’s interaction with a 17th loggerhead turtle this year. The Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish has a federal observer on every vessel for every trip. The North Pacific loggerhead population is growing annually at 2.4 percent, but a court settlement in May 2018 reduced the fishery’s allowable interaction with the species from 34 to 17. The interaction cap of 17 cannot be modified until the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) completes a new biological opinion (BiOp) for the fishery.

The Council, which is mandated by Congress to develop management measures for offshore US fisheries in the Pacific islands region, has been waiting for NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) to deliver the new BiOp so the Council can move forward with proposed new loggerhead limits and other turtle interaction mitigation measures for the fishery. The shutdown reinforced Simonds’ core message, that the “pace with which NMFS PIRO responds to federal and legal procedures has left all of the region’s major fisheries at risk.”

Upon hearing the news of the shutdown, Roger Dang, whose family has fished with longline vessels out of Hawai’i for more than 30 years, immediately sent a message to the Council. Council member Michael Goto read the statement to the Council.

I am writing to you tonight from the Seafood Show in Boston on behalf of the entire community of Hawai’i’s swordfish fleet and others in the fishing industry, including fish buyers and wholesalers, fishing gear and bait suppliers, and logistics companies, to express how highly untimely and unfortunate this is for all of us. We have all spent the last several months working with some of the largest swordfish buyers in the US to develop a buying and shipping program to support the US/Hawaii swordfish fishery. These buyers initially expressed concerns on the reliability and continuity of supply because of the hard cap being reached in 2018. Still, they committed since the start of the 2019 season and, just as recently as yesterday, agreed to decrease their reliance on foreign imported swordfish and increase their purchases of Hawaii swordfish. … The lengthy delay of a biological opinion was critical for us, and we feel the agency has failed us greatly. This has directly caused our mainland US partners to lose confidence in our ability to sustain production, and I fear that they will continue to discount Hawaii as a reliable source of swordfish going into the future.”

The Hawai’i longline fishery provides between 50 and 60 percent of the domestic production of swordfish in the United States. The North Pacific swordfish stock is healthy and is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. About 94 percent of the seafood consumed in the nation is imported.

Besides the new BiOp for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery, the Council is waiting for the agency to develop new BiOps on the Hawai’i deep-water longline fishery for bigeye tuna, American Samoa longline fishery for albacore and the US tropical purse-seine fishery for skipjack tuna in regards to oceanic white tip shark. NMFS listed this shark as threatened under the ESA in January 2018.

Besides the new BiOp for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery, the Council is waiting for the agency to develop new BiOps on the Hawai’i deep-water longline fishery for bigeye tuna, American Samoa longline fishery for albacore and the US tropical purse-seine fishery for skipjack tuna in regards to oceanic white tip shark. NMFS listed this shark as threatened under the ESA in January 2018.

Ramifications from a delayed BiOp for the American Samoa fishery could be “catastrophic” for the Territory, said Council Chair Archie Soliai. The fishery provides the StarKist Samoa cannery, the Territory’s largest private-sector employer, with MSC-certified albacore tuna needed for its Blue Harbor label and US fish needed for certain government contracts, such as school lunch programs and military MREs (meals ready to eat). “The fishery needs support in order to sustain operations and maintain jobs,” Soliai added.

Council Vice Chair Christinna Lutu-Sanchez said that fishery participants have been hopeful that the Council’s recommendation that a portion of the American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) be opened to the American Samoa longline vessels would help the fishery with economic struggles it has experienced in recent years. Those struggles have caused fishery participation and catch to plummet to the point that the fishery is on the brink of disappearing. The LVPA amendment, which intends to bring relief to the fishery, cannot move forward until the BiOp is completed.

In addition, in January 2018 the Hawai’i deep-set longline fishery was shut out of the 132,000 square mile area known as the Southern Exclusion Zone (SEZ), which leaves less than 18 percent of the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Hawai’i open to the fishery. That closure was triggered when that fishery had a second interaction with a false killer whale that NMFS considered would result in mortality and serious injury (M&SI). If a false killer whale is released alive with any fishing gear, regardless of the length, NMFS in most cases considers the interaction to be a serious injury. Besides the SEZ, fisheries are banned from the 582,578 square miles of US waters comprising the marine national monument in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Longlining is also prohibited within 50 to 75 nautical miles of the main Hawaiian Islands, based on regulations developed by the Council in the 1990s.

Council member McGrew Rice, a full-time Kona charter boat fisherman, questioned the NMFS criteria for determining M&SI. “The way NMFS set up serious injury is not appropriate and is hurting the fishermen. The animals are still surviving,” he said. “For example,” he added, “I catch three to six marlins a year that have hooks and lines and are feeding. … That issue really needs to be carefully looked at to change the rule as to what is really M&SI for false killer whales.” 

The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that advises the Council, last week, asked that NMFS develop serious-injury determination criteria for false killer whales that are probability-based.

The SEZ may reopen in 2020 if the average estimated false killer whale M&SI in the deep-set longline fishery within the remaining open areas of the EEZ around Hawai’i for up to the five most recent years is below the potential biological removal (PBR) for the species. The PBR is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the maximum number of animals that can be removed, not including natural mortalities, from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach and maintain its optimum sustainable population, i.e., its maximum productivity keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and health of the ecosystem. The SSC recommended that the Council request NMFS develop approaches to incorporate population viability analysis (PVA) to supplement the use of PBR and to reduce uncertainty in PBR estimates. PVA is a species-specific risk assessment method frequently used in conservation biology. The SSC also requested that the Council ask NMFS to provide the data needed for the SSC to develop the PVA in parallel to the NMFS process.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Secretary of Commerce (under which NMFS operates) “shall provide assistance to Regional Fishery Management Councils … in meeting the goal of reducing incidental mortality and serious injury ….” 

The Council meeting concludes tomorrow at the YWCA Fuller Hall, 1040 Richards St., Honolulu. For the agenda and background materials, including how to connect to the meeting via webex, go to www.wpcouncil.org/category/upcoming-council-and-advisory-body-meetings or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (acting chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawaii) (vice chair); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Edwin Watamura (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii 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 Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.

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Press Release – Fishermen Identify Projects to Improve Fisheries Development in the US Pacific Islands (18 March 2019)

HONOLULU (18 March 2019) Projects to develop fisheries topped the list of needs identified by fishermen from Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) during their March 15 and16 meeting in Honolulu. The group, which constitutes the Advisory Panel (AP) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, also highlighted the importance of fishing to the communities of each of the island areas. They said that the social and economic value of the local and regional fisheries needs to better communicated.

The Advisory Panel of fishermen pointed out the need for fisheries development and improved public understanding of the socioeconomic importance of fisheries in Hawai‘i and US Pacific Islands.

“The Council welcomes the ideas and contributions of the Advisory Panel,” said Council Chair Archie Soliai. “This is a challenging time for fisheries, and the AP has a lot of work to do. ”

The Council will consider the AP recommendations when it meets tomorrow through Thursday at the YWCA Fuller Hall, 1040 Richards St., Honolulu. Included among the suggested projects and activities from the AP are fishery demonstration projects; expanded use of technology to collect fishery data; characterization of existing fisheries in Hawai‘i; and improved fishing opportunities in Guam and the CNMI through improved fish aggregation devices, fishery access and reduction of shark depredation. 

AP members include representatives from diverse fisheries, including spearfish, longline, bottomfish, charter boat, subsistence and the fishery media. The AP is mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

For agendas and background materials on the AP and Council meetings as well as the Fishers Forum tomorrow (March 19) 6 to 9 p.m. at the Ala Moana Hotel, go to www.wpcouncil.org/category/upcoming-council-and-advisory-body-meetings or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.

Advisory Panel: American Samoa: Krista Corry, Sam Meleisea, Carlos Sanchez, Dustin Snow, William Sword, Brian Thompson; CNMI: Richard Farrell, Michael Fleming, Perry Mesgnon, Cecilio Raiukiulipiy, Ray Tebuteb, Jun Yamagishi; Guam: Judith Amesbury, James Borja, Ken Borja, Jason Miller, Matthew Orot, Tatiana Talavera; Hawai‘i: Nathan Abe, Khang Dang, Eddie Ebisui III, Gil Kualii, Carrie Johnston, Clay Tam

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (acting chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawaii) (vice chair); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Edwin Watamura (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii 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 Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.

Click here for printable PDF.

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Press Release – Change Is in the Air: Scientists Suggest New Approaches for Marine Mammal Interaction Mitigation, Spatial Management, Non-traditional Data Use, Hawai‘i Kona Crab Measures (15 March 2019)

HONOLULU (15 March 2019) The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded a three-day meeting yesterday in Honolulu with a suite of recommendations to more effectively address issues facing fisheries in the US Pacific Islands. The SSC recommendations will be considered March 18-21 in Honolulu by the Council, a federal instrumentality created by Congress to develop fishery management measures for offshore fisheries in the US Pacific Islands. Recommendations of the Council that are approved by the US Secretary of Commerce are implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

False Killer Whales: The Southern Exclusion Zone (SEZ), a 132,000 square mile area in the offshore waters around the main Hawaiian Islands, was closed to the Hawai‘i longline fishery on Feb. 22, 2019, after its interactions resulted in a mortality and serious injury (M&SI) determination for two false killer whales. With the SEZ closed, less than 18 percent of US exclusive economic zone around Hawai‘i remains open to the fishery. The SEZ may reopen in 2020 if the average estimated false killer whale M&SI in the deep-set longline fishery within the remaining open areas of the EEZ around Hawai‘i for up to the five most recent years is below the potential biological removal (PBR) for the species. This Honolulu-based fishery lands about $100 million of sashimi-quality tuna, which stays principally in the state. The PBR is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the maximum number of animals that can be removed, not including natural mortalities, from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach and maintain its optimum sustainable population, i.e., its maximum productivity keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and health of the ecosystem. The SSC recommended that the Council request NMFS develop approaches to incorporate population viability analysis (PVA) to supplement the use of PBR and to reduce uncertainty in PBR estimates. PVA is a species-specific risk assessment method frequently used in conservation biology. The SSC also requested that the Council ask NMFS to provide the data needed for the SSC to develop the PVA in parallel to the NMFS process. It also asked that NMFS develop serious-injury determination criteria for false killer whales that are probability-based. Currently, NMFS considers the impact of a false killer whale determined to be seriously injured to be equivalent to the impact of a dead false killer whale, even though animals determined to be seriously injured are released alive.

Spatial Management: A subgroup of the SSC worked to define benefits and limitations to spatial management actions relative to regional fishery issues and management objectives. The working group explored time-area closures; adaptive/real-time closures and restrictions; permanent no-take closures; and alternative non-spatial management actions, such as gear restrictions. It discussed objectives of management actions, such as increasing targeted bigeye and albacore tuna abundance and reducing Hawai‘i longline interactions with sea turtles and false killer whales. It also identified criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of spatially managed areas. The SSC reviewed the outcomes of the working group and recommended that effective spatial management should have the following:

  • Objectives and performance metrics explicitly specified prior to developing a spatial management area in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the spatial management. The performance metrics should concurrently address conservation, economic and social objectives.
  • Regular monitoring of the performance of the spatial management area.
  • Planned and tenable compliance monitoring and enforcement.

The SSC said permanent closed areas are likely less effective than modifying fishing gear or methods to minimize protected species bycatch. It recommended regulations that would allow industry to find voluntary means to reduce bycatch and have input in the development of mitigation measures.

Non-government Data: A second SSC subgroup worked to develop a process to comply with the requirements of the Modern Fish Act, passed by Congress in December 2018, on the use of non-government information in fishery management decision-making. The SSC noted that the Council process is already designed to incorporate nongovernment sources of data and information when developing conservation and management measures. The SSC further noted that nongovernment authors should provide their scientific papers or data to the Council. Among other recommendations, the SSC recommended that workshops be considered to determine the range and evaluate the quality of data sets.

Hawai‘i Kona Crab: The SSC evaluated the benchmark assessment of the Hawai‘i Kona crab fishery and determined that it is the best scientific information available for status determination and setting harvest limits. The scientists said the assessment possibly accounted for a limited portion of the stock due to the small geographic extent of the commercial fishery relative to the larger distribution of the stock in Hawai‘i as well as a lack of information on noncommercial fishing activities. It suggested that female crabs discards be recorded on fishermen trip reports and that a stock assessment model be used that can account for sex-specific dynamics, since State of Hawai‘i management measures allow the take of males but requires females to be discarded. The SSC recommended that the sex ratio of Kona crab at Penguin Bank be studied to evaluate the potential effects on the stock from the sex-selective fishery and reiterated its strong recommendation that extension of the closed season, changes in mesh size, retention of females and other alternative management options be evaluated to stimulate fishermen participation in this healthy fishery. Fishery participation had declined significantly after the non-retention of female Kona crabs went into effect.

US Territory Longline Bigeye Tuna Quota: Regarding the federal quotas of longline-caught bigeye tuna for the US Pacific Territories that participate in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the SSC noted that the projected impacts of allowing each US Territory to transfer 1,000 or up to 2,000 metric tons (mt) of their 2,000 mt quotas to permitted US longline fishing vessels would not lead to bigeye overfishing and are consistent with the Commission’s management objectives. The WCPFC is an international regional fishery management organization that sets quotas and other management measures for tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

For more information on the SSC and Council meetings, go to www.wpcouncil.org; email info@wpcouncil.org or phone (808) 522-8220.The Council Standing Committees meet March 18 at the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, and the full Council meets March 19-21 at the YWCA Fuller Hall at 1040 Richards St. A Fishers Forum on Using Life History in Stock Assessments will be held on March 19 from 6 to 9 p.m.at the Ala Moana Hotel’s Hibiscus Ballroom, 410 Atkinson Dr., as part of the Council meeting. The public is invited to all of these meetings.

Scientific and Statistical Committee: James Lynch (K&L Gates LLP) (chair); Debra Cabrera (University of Guam); Frank Camacho (University of Guam); Milani Chaloupka (University of Queensland); Erik Franklin (University of Hawai‘i, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology); Shelton Harley (Minister of Fisheries, 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 Okano (Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources); Graham Pilling (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; and Michael Seki (ex-officio) (NMFS PIFSC).

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; Chelsea Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasra, 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 – Annual Catch Limit and Accountability Measures; Main Hawaiian Islands Deep 7 Bottomfish (March 12, 2019)

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

SUMMARY: This proposed rule would establish 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 the fishing year as an accountability measure (AM). This proposed rule would also make housekeeping changes to the Federal bottomfish fishing regulations. The proposed rule supports the long-term sustainability of Deep 7 bottomfish.
DATES: NMFS must receive comments by April 11, 2019.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rule, identified by
NOAA–NMFS–2018–0121, by either of the following methods:

  • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0121, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
  • Mail: Send written comments to Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

Instructions: NMFS may not consider comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). NMFS prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) that describes the potential impacts on the human environment that could result from the proposed action. The draft EA and other supporting documents are available at www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brett Schumacher, NMFS PIRO
Sustainable Fisheries, 808–725–5185.

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Press Release – Turtles, Whales, Birds among Fishery Science Discussions This Week in Honolulu (12 March 2019)

HONOLULU (12 March 2019) Renowned scientists from throughout the Pacific began a three-day meeting today in Honolulu to consider a range of issues facing the offshore fisheries of Hawai‘i and the US Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Recommendations from this group known as the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) will be forwarded to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which meets in Honolulu on March 18-21. The Council develops fishery management measures for the fisheries, which are transmitted to the US Secretary of Commerce for approval and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

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