Press Release – Council Identifies Priorities for US Pacific Island Fishery Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief (16 September 2020)

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Uncertainty in the seafood market had many of Hawai’i’s commercial longline vessels tied up at the pier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HONOLULU (16 September 2020) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, meeting virtually this week, recommended actions the Trump Administration could take to promote seafood competitiveness and economic growth and to provide regulatory relief to support economic recovery for the offshore fisheries of Hawai’i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and eight Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIAs). The Council member representing the Hawai’i State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) voted in opposition.

 
 
 
 
The Council’s recommendations to the Administration respond to President Trump’s Executive Orders (EOs) 13921 and 13924 issued on May 7 and May 19, 2020, respectively. The purposes of EO 13921 include removing outdated and unnecessarily burdensome regulations and improving transparency and efficiency of environmental reviews, among others. Section 4 of EO asks for each of the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils to provide a prioritized list of recommended actions that would reduce burdens on domestic fishing and increase production within sustainable fisheries.
 
The Council’s list includes improving implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the current process, the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery has experienced three seasons of restricted fishing following a May 2018 lawsuit settlement that arbitrarily reduced the fishery’s allowable incidental catch of loggerhead turtles to 17. Nearly all of these sea turtles are released alive. The Council recommended that Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) developed to ensure the continued existence of an ESA-listed species should be indeed “reasonable” and commensurate with the relative impact to the ESA-listed population. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center (PIFSC), the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery has no discernable impact on the loggerhead population. The Council also recommended that ESA environmental reviews of fisheries be completed within the 135-day statutory timeline and that RPMs be developed with the councils and implemented under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The Council also recommended that ESA listings be revised where populations are increasing and threats do not pose immediate danger of extinction. The North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle population, for example, has been increasing by more than 2.4% annually.
 
 
Another item on the Council’s list is removal of the fishing prohibitions in the four Marine National Monuments in the Pacific and returning management of federally regulated fisheries in monument waters to the MSA. The Pacific monuments comprise half of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the region.
 
 
The Council also proposed exempting manmade and degraded environments, such as harbors, from being classified as essential fish habitat (EFH), i.e., waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity. The exemption would address lengthy delays and unreasonable conservation actions that hamper harbor improvements and maintenance as these waters are currently considered EFH.
Among other actions taken by the Council during the first half of this week’s meeting are the following:
  • Hawai’i Shallow-Set Longline Fishery: The Council requested that NMFS PIRO work with it and Hawai’i shallow-set longline industry representatives to establish communication procedures that would provide permit holders and vessel owners with timely turtle interaction updates based on observer data. This would ensure that the fleet has access to all available information for the purpose of minimizing interactions with loggerhead and leatherback turtles and complying with new trip limit regulations of two leatherback and five North Pacific loggerhead turtle interactions, which begin tomorrow.
  • Marianas Trench Marine National Monument: The Council requested PIRO and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to reconstitute the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Advisory Council prior to the publication of the Draft Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Plan to ensure comprehensive review of the plan.
  • CNMI Fisheries Safety at Sea: The Council requested that the U.S. Coast Guard provide an automatic identification system transmitting beacon and navigational lights on Aguigan (Goat Island) and Anatahan to assist fishermen in identifying the island and to repair navigational lights on Rota and Tinian. The Council also asked NOAA to fix VHF Channel 2 (24-hour weather forecast) broadcasted from Saipan.
  • American Samoa Fisheries: The Council directed its staff to work with the Territory’s Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources to assist eligible fishery participants with completing the requirements to submit CARES Act funding applications and provide updates on the proposal status to the fishing community.
  • PRIA Marine Conservation Plan: The Council modified the objectives and projects in the plan to include longline considerations.
            The meeting continues tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.(HST). The public is invited to participate and to provide comments. The meeting agenda, briefing documents and instructions on connecting to the virtual meeting can be found online at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars or by contacting the Council at info@wpcouncil.org or at (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); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Anthony Benavente, 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 Matthew Sibley, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Dept. of State; and Brian Peck, US Fish and Wildlife Service.           

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