Press Release – Federal Fishery Managers Agree to US Pacific Island Pelagic and Protected Species Measures (16 March 2018)

HONOLULU (16 March 2018) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council yesterday in Honolulu agreed to a suite of management measures for pelagic fisheries and protected species in the US Pacific Islands operating seaward of State/Territory waters. The Council is mandated by Congress to manage federal fisheries of Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Island Areas. Recommendations by the Council are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval. Among the actions taken by the Council, were the following:

Sea Turtle Interactions in the Hawaii Shallow-set

Hawaii shallow-set longline vessel for swordfish.

Longline Fishery: The Council agreed to develop a framework to effectively manage impacts to leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, while maintaining fishing opportunities during peak swordfish season. The framework may include a limit on the allowable interactions between the fishery and the sea turtles, a temporary closure when a proportion of the loggerhead or leatherback limit is reached, measures for real-time spatial monitoring and management of interaction hotspots and fluctuations, and a communication program to facilitate implementation of these measures and to disseminate interaction information to the fleet. The Council will work with the fishery participants and its scientific advisors on a potential initiative giving the industry discretion to manage fleet-wide sea turtle interactions based on hard caps identified by the Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This initiative could include industry-implemented transferable interaction quotas or other methods, such as risk pools. The Council will consider the draft framework at its next meeting, June 11-14, 2018 on Maui. The Council will also work with fishery participants to identify communication pathways to provide more timely information to the fleet on sea turtle interactions.

US Territory Longline Bigeye Specifications: The Council recommended that NMFS specify a 2018 quota of 2,000 metric tons (mt) of longline bigeye catch each for American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI and allows each territory to allocate up to 1,000 mt of its bigeye catch limit. According to current stocks assessments, Pacific bigeye tuna is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The Council further recommended that NMFS implement these specifications by July 1, 2018. Additionally, as an initial action, the Council moved to modify Amendment 7 of the Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan to allow the Council to specify allocation limits without having to first specify total catch or effort limits. Council staff will work with the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) to prepare the draft amendment and associated analyses for final action at the Council meeting in June.
American Samoa Longline Swordfish Trip Limit: The Council recommended removal of the swordfish trip limit that applies to the American Samoa longline fishery when operating south of the equator. “Removing the swordfish trip limit will eliminate unnecessary discards while not impacting the stock, sea turtles or the enforceability of the gear requirements that have been in place since 2011,” said Council Chair Edwin A. Ebisui Jr.” Removing the trip limit may also increase the supply of swordfish for local markets and community distribution channels.”
Hawaii Yellowfin Tuna Minimum Size: The Council recognized that prior analysis and community scoping by the Council and the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources on changing the minimum size of juvenile ahi (yellowfin tuna) indicated that an increase of the current minimum size from 3 pounds was not supported at that time as the biological benefits to resource would be minimal while the socioeconomic impacts to the community could be significant. However, the Council encouraged the State of Hawaii to evaluate the continued use of the “damshi-type” gear that uses hundreds of hooks on a branch line to target undersized ahi (less than 3 pounds) for commercial sale.  In addition to evaluating enforcement options, the Council recommended that the State might also consider alternate management options such as gear restrictions and/or bag limits that may address the social concerns in the fishery.
The Council will conclude its meeting today with considerations given to the American Samoa and Mariana (Guam and CNMI) fisheries and administrative matters. For an agenda and background documents, go to www.wpcouncil.orgor email or phone (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: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); 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.