Pacific Remote Islands

Many of the islands in the Pacific Remote Islands were modified during World War II and have subsequently become National Wildlife Refuges and part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Human habitation on these islands is limited, with only Wake, Johnston and Palmyra having seasonal or year-round residents primarily related to military and refuge management. Because these islands are located far from areas of high human population, they are considered to be some of the healthiest reef ecosystems in the world, although some are experiencing residual impacts from military use. There are no designated fishing communities in the Pacific Remote Islands. Most of the fishing effort has been concentrated around Johnston and Palmyra by members of the Hawai‘i fishing community.

Overview

The Pacific Remote Islands include Howland, Baker, Jarvis and Wake Islands; Palmyra and Johnston Atolls; and Kingman Reef. In these islands, federal jurisdiction extends 200 miles seaward from the shoreline.

The marine ecosystem and habitat surrounding these islands are considered some of the most geographically isolated in the world. These islands were formed through volcanic activity and consequently have steep drop-offs to the sea floor. Each of these islands has relatively little habitat suitable for sustaining a large benthic-associated marine biomass, but they do have rich a history of fishing and use. Commercial and recreational fishing for coral reef, crustacean, bottomfish and pelagic species have occurred at varying degrees.

In 2006, President George W. Bush established the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which generally extended from 0-50 nautical miles around each of the islands and atolls in the PRIA. In 2014, President Obama expanded the PRIMNM to the outer-boundary the US exclusive economic zone around Wake Island, Jarvis Island and Palmyra Atoll/Kingman Reef. Commercial fishing is prohibited in the PRIMNM, whereas non-commercial and recreational fishing is allowed but subject to permit and reporting requirements. Fishing regulations applicable to the Pacific Remote Islands can be found at 50 CFR 665 subpart E and 50 CFR 665 subpart H.

Pacific Remote Island Fisheries

Fishing is prohibited by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) within the Howland Island, Jarvis Island and Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) boundaries. Currently, these islands are uninhabited. The USFWS manages Johnston Atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge, but it does allow some recreational fishing within the boundaries of this refuge. A tourist facility at Midway until 2002 operated a charter boat fishery of five vessels targeting primarily yellowfin tuna, wahoo and marlin. In addition, approximately seven small vessels were maintained and used by Midway residents for recreational fishing, three commonly for pelagic fishing. At Palmyra Atoll, an island privately owned by The Nature Conservancy, a 22-foot catamaran is used for offshore trolling and four small boats operated within the lagoon are used for bonefish angling. Several craft are used for recreational fishing at the military base on Wake Island, including two landing craft and two small vessels.

The status of the fisheries is updated annually in the Council’s Annual Reports for its Fishery Ecosystem Plans. For complete information on the current status of the fisheries, please see the Annual Reports:

Pelagic Fisheries

Fishing is prohibited by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) within the Howland Island, Jarvis Island and Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) boundaries. Currently, these islands are uninhabited. The USFWS manages Johnston Atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge, but it does allow some recreational fishing within the boundaries of this refuge. A tourist facility at Midway until 2002 operated a charter boat fishery of five vessels targeting primarily yellowfin tuna, wahoo and marlin. In addition, approximately seven small vessels were maintained and used by Midway residents for recreational fishing, three commonly for pelagic fishing. At Palmyra Atoll, an island privately owned by The Nature Conservancy, a 22-foot catamaran is used for offshore trolling and four small boats operated within the lagoon are used for bonefish angling. Several craft are used for recreational fishing at the military base on Wake Island, including two landing craft and two small vessels.

Estimated total landings in 2017 for American Samoa pelagic fisheries were approximately 4.8 million pounds, declining since 2009 and 2010 when landings exceeded 11 million pounds. Pelagic landings consist mainly of five tuna species including albacore, yellowfin, skipjack, mackerel, and bigeye, which made up approximately 95 percent of the total estimated landings when combined with other tuna species. Wahoo, blue marlin and mahimahi made up most of the non-tuna species landings.

In 2017, a total of 3,045,774 pounds of albacore were caught by the American Samoa longline fleet, making up 67 percent the tuna species in total estimated landings. Yellowfin tuna catch by the fleet was in 2017 was 1,175,128 pounds. Despite a precipitous decline in targeted tuna catches by the American Samoa longline fleet since 2010, stock assessments of yellowfin tuna and South Pacific albacore indicate that the stocks are not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring. In 2017, total catches of South Pacific albacore and yellowfin tuna within the Western and Central Pacific Ocean were at record high levels, due to the combined harvests of several international fisheries. US purse-seine vessels also homeport out of Pago Pago harbor and deliver skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye to the local cannery. Purse-seine fishing when conducted in the US exclusive economic zone can be regulated by the Council, but to date, there are no specific purse-seine regulations under the Council’s Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan. The US purse-seine fishery is regulated by the US government under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Implementation Act.

Island Fisheries

Bottomfish

The bottomfish fishery landings in American Samoa, relative to the short-term average, declined in 2017. Considering only bottomfish management unit species (BMUS) on a short-term basis, total estimated catch decreased by 14 percent while the commercial landings decreased by 41 percent. This indicates that the majority of the BMUS catch was non-commercial. The amount of effort in the bottomfish fishery (measured in gear-hours) increased by 35 percent in 2017 relative to average values from the last decade, while the total number of participants increased by 106 percent compared to the short-term average.

Coral Reef Ecosystem Fisheries

Coral reef fishery catch in 2017 from the boat-based fisheries in American Samoa was 38 percent lower than the short-term average which continues a two-decade decreasing trend. The shore-based coral reef fisheries had an estimated catch in 2017 that was 65 percent lower than the short-term average catch. The catch per unit effort (CPUE) in the coral reef boat-based fisheries was higher in the mixed bottomfishing and trolling methods than in the spearfishing method over the same time period. Trolling CPUE had decreased 72 percent in 2017 in the midst of a 10-year increasing trend. The shore-based rod-and-reel fishery showed a lower estimated CPUE, whereas the spear, gleaning and gill net fisheries had higher CPUE. Fishing effort values were lower in 2017 for five coral reef fishery methods than the previous year. Boat-based spear, trolling and shore-based rod-and-reel each had a higher fishing effort than the short-term average. Data showed that shore-based hook-and-line effort had significantly decreased in 2017 to two total gear-hours (i.e., a 96 percent decrease).

Fishery Ecosystem Plans

The US Pacific Remote Islands Areas (PRIA) Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP), developed by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, includes fishery regulations for the Pacific Remote Islands. They include marine management zones, protected species provisions, and permit and reporting requirements to foster data collection, monitoring and enforcement, as well as additional framework under which the Council manages fishery resources.

Pelagic fishery resources, which play an important role in the biological as well as the socioeconomic environment of the US Pacific Remote Islands, are managed separately through the Pacific Pelagic FEP because of the migratory nature of pelagic species.

Both the PRIA and Pelagic FEPs were approved in 2009 and codified in 2010. These FEPs are amended as necessary

Marine Conservation Plans

Marine Conservation Plans (MCPs) are required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Section 204(4)) detailing the use of funds collected by the Secretary of Commerce pursuant to fishery agreements (e.g. Pacific Insular Area fishery agreement, quota transfer agreement, etc.).  These MCPs should be consistent with the fishery ecosystem plan, identify conservation and management objectives, and prioritize planned marine conservation projects.  The PRIA/Hawaii MCP is developed by the Council under MSA Section 204(7), the Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund (SFF).  The SFF provides funds received by the Secretary of Commerce under a Pacific Insular Area fishery agreement or contributions received in support of conservation and management objectives for areas other than American Samoa, Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands.    Click below for the PRIA’s latest Marine Conservation Plan

Indigenous + Community Resources

Since its inception in 1976 the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has been guided by the social, cultural and economic realities of our island communities. In our region, since time immemorial, the ocean has been the primary source of protein. Conservation was the system for food security and survival.

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