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Press Release – Scientists Recommend Removing Catch Limits, Increasing Allocation Limits for US Pacific Territory Longline-Caught Bigeye Tuna (20 June 2019)

Bigeye tuna drawing. Courtesy Les Hata, Secretariat of the Pacific Community

HONOLULU (20 June 2019) The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded a three-day meeting today in Honolulu recommending bigeye tuna catch limits and allocation amounts for the US Participating Territories for the fishing years 2020 to 2023. This and other recommendations by the Council’s SSC will be considered by the Council at its 178th meeting in Honolulu on June 25-27. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Council has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters in Hawaiʻi and other US Pacific Islands.

Bigeye Tuna: The SSC recommended that no catch limit be set for long-line caught bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) convention area from 2020 to 2023 for any US Pacific territory. It also recommended that each US Pacific territory be allowed to allocate up to 2,000 metric tons (mt) to federally permitted Hawai‘i longline vessels.

The WCPFC is an international regional fishery management organization that develops quotas and other management measures for tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Under WCPFC, Small Island Developing States and Participating Territories (such as the three US territories in the Pacific) do not have longline-caught bigeye quotas. However, under an amendment to the Council’s Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has the authority to specify annual catch and allocation limits for the US Participating Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In recent years, each US territory had a 2,000 mt limit and authority to allocate up to 1,000 mt.

Prior to making its decision, the SSC reviewed stock projections through 2045, which showed that catch limit and allocation scenarios of up to 3,000 mt per Territory were not significant enough to cause the stock to go over any limit reference points adopted by the WCPFC.

Other outcomes of the SSC meeting include the following, among others:

Hawaiʻi Kona Crab: Based on updated information from a 2018 benchmark stock assessment and other reports, the SSC set the acceptable biological catch (ABC) for the main Hawaiian Islands Kona crab commercial fishery at 30,802 pounds for 2020 to 2023. This decision accounted for the scientific uncertainties with an estimated risk of overfishing of 38 percent. The Council will utilize the ABC to specify the annual catch limit for the stock.

Shifting Distributions and Changing Productivity: A NMFS Office of Science and Technology representative reported on the major challenges and potential solutions in addressing both shifts in stock distributions as well as changing stock and ecosystem productivity. The presentation identified six steps to account for and respond to climate impacts on fisheries and recommended ways to account or prepare for distribution and productivity shifts. These recommendations are intended to serve as a guide for each region in the development of fishery management actions.

Ray Hilborn, SSC member, noted, “… where you close [fisheries] now is not where the species are going to be in 20 years.” He also pointed out that non-governmental organizations strongly push for permanently closed areas rather than considering adaptive spatial management.

Spatial Management: A working group of the SSC reported on its efforts to define benefits and limitations to spatial management actions relative to pertinent regional fishery issues and management objectives. The working group discussed the development of a workshop on “Spatial Management of Blue Water Ecosystems” with a broad spectrum of participants to be held in 2019 or 2020. The SSC recommended that the Council endorse the workshop with the themes of 1) spatial management objectives and performance metrics, 2) alternative approaches to spatial management, 3) evaluation and monitoring, and 4) policy and outreach approaches to spatial management.

The Council will consider these and other SSC recommendations when it meets next week in Honolulu. Action items on the Council agenda include the US Territory bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits, catch limits and options for specifying annual catch limits for main Hawaiian Islands Kona crab, managing loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the Hawai‘i-based shallow-set longline fishery, and a Hawai‘i Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan amendment to precious coral essential fish habitat. The Council will also have a presentation from Global Fishing Watch, an organization that uses technology to visualize, track and share data about global fishing activity.

The Council Standing Committees meet June 24 at the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, and the full Council meets June 25-27 at the YWCA Fuller Hall at 1040 Richards St. A Fishers Forum on Emerging Technologies in Fisheries will be held on June 25 from 6 to 9 p.m.at 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. For more information on the SSC and Council meetings, go to www.wpcouncil.org; email info@wpcouncil.org or phone (808) 522-8220.

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 (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); 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; Chelsa 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.