Press Releases

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)

News and Updates, Press Releases


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; email 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 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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