HONOLULU (5 March 2018) Renowned scientists from throughout the Pacific will convene in Honolulu tomorrow through Thursday to provide 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 meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) is open to the public and runs 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite1400. 

Recommendations from the SSC and the Council’s other advisory bodies will be considered by the Council at its 172nd meeting to be held March 14-17 at the Laniakea YWCA, Fuller Hall, 1040 Richards St., Honolulu. The Council is expected to take action on nine items, including the following five actions that are being reviewed by the SSC.

Ecosystem components species classification: A proposed amendment to the Fishery Ecosystem Plans (FEPs) for the Hawai‘i, American Samoa and Mariana Archipelagos would reclassify hundreds of species that are not readily caught by fishermen as ecosystem component species. Currently these species are classified as “species in need of federal management and conservation,” which requires stock assessments, annual catch limits and other actions from which “ecosystem component species” are exempt. The ecosystem component species would remain in the FEPs and would continue to be monitored by the Council.

Sea turtle interactions in the Hawai‘i shallow-set longline fishery: The Council will consider options for developing a framework for managing loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions in the Hawaii shallow-set longline fishery. The management framework would provide responsive measures to help ensure year-round operations while addressing the needs for protected species conservation. Among these possible measures are a) specification of hard caps; b) a temporary in-season closure when a certain proportion of the loggerhead or leatherback limit is reached; c) real-time spatial management measures to monitor and respond to interaction hotspots and fluctuations; and d) a fleet communication program to facilitate real-time spatial management measures and disseminate interaction information to the fleet.

US Territory longline bigeye catch limit specification: The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) develops and agrees on conservation and management measures for highly migratory species caught by WCPFC members and Participating Territories in the Western and Central Pacific Official. In December 2017, the WCPFC agreed to a measure that restores the longline bigeye limits of six countries to 2016 levels, including the United States (3,554 mt). The measure does not establish an individual limit on the amount of bigeye tuna that may be harvested annually in the Convention Area by Small Island Developing States and Participating Territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI. The SSC and Council will consider a federal measure that limits the bigeye longline catch of the US Territories and the amount of catch they could transfer under Specified Fishing Arrangements to vessels permitted under the Pelagic FEP.

American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area: In 2002, the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) was established to separate the large (greater than 50 feet) and small longline vessels to prevent potential gear conflict and catch competition. Subsequently, the fleet of small alia longline vessels dwindled from 40 down to one. About 15 larger longline vessels continue to operate out of Pago Pago Harbor under severe economic stress. Consideration will be given to LVPA options that may improve economic efficiency of the larger longline vessels while taking into consideration, among other things, the need to prevent overfishing, impacts on small vessels and protecting American Samoa cultural fishing practices.

American Samoa swordfish trip limit: In 2009, the Council recommended Amendment 5 to the Pelagic FEP to require gear modifications in the America Samoa longline fishery to require hooks to be set below 100 meters in depth in order to minimize the incidental catch of green sea turtles. NMFS implemented this measure in 2011. Amendment 5 also limited swordfish per trip to 10, which mirrored Hawaii longline regulations. Poor economic conditions have persisted in the American Samoa longline fishery for several years due to reduced albacore catch rates, high operating costs and relatively low fish prices. Consideration is thus being given to modify or remove the limit on the maximum number of swordfish that can be landed on a per trip basis by vessels holding an American Samoa limited entry longline permit that operate south of the Equator. The intent of the proposed action is to optimize fishery resources by reducing regulatory discards of swordfish and increase efficiency of the fishery while maintaining safeguards for sea turtles and other protected species.

For the complete SSC and Council meeting agendas and associated documents, 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: 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); James Lynch (K&L Gates LLP); 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): RADM Vincent B. Atkins, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.