Press Release – Scientists Set Acceptable Biological Catch for American Samoa Bottomfish, Recommend Rebuilding Plans for American Samoa and Guam Bottomfish (01 December 2020)

News and Updates, Press Releases

HONOLULU (01 December 2020) The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded its two-day virtual meeting today. Key outcomes addressed the American Samoa and Guam bottomfish fisheries and measures to mitigate incidental interactions of the Hawai‘i longline fishery with protected species.

American Samoa Bottomfish
To address overfishing in the American Samoa bottomfish fishery, the SSC recommended a phased-in acceptable biological catch (ABC) of 5,000 pounds in fishing year 2021 and 2000 pounds in fishing year 2022. This option provides a gradual reduction in the ABC and allows limited access to offshore banks to access culturally important deep-water snappers.
 
To rebuild the overfished American Samoa bottomfish stock within the next 10 years per the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the SSC supports an annual catch limit (ACL) of 1,500 pounds. An in-season accountability measure will be implemented to track the catch relative to the ACL. Federal waters will close to bottomfishing when the ACL is projected to be reached.
 
SSC members discussed the practicality of enforcing fishing regulations between territorial and federal waters. The distribution of bottomfish using a habitat proxy showed 85% is found in territorial waters. The reduction of catch through this federal action only constitutes a minute portion of the total catch, but a significant proportion of the deep-water bottomfish species found on the offshore banks.
 
The SSC expressed concerns regarding the data-limited nature of these fisheries that hampers their accurate representation and the ability to properly manage them. The COVID-19 pandemic affected implementing the data collection programs. The SSC noted that if there is no new data to support the new benchmark assessment aside from changing the modeling approach, then the fishery may still end up with the same stock status.
 
The SSC reiterated its recommendation that the next benchmark bottomfish stock assessment in 2023 analyze the deep-water complex separately from the shallow-water complex. The SSC also recommended that the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center conduct a data workshop with the American Samoa bottomfish fishermen, local fishery agency and other interested parties to discuss the data and model assumptions that will be used in the next assessment.
 
To rebuild the overfished Guam bottomfish stock, the SSC supports either an ACL of 27,000 pounds, rebuilding the stock in four years, or an ACL of 31,000 pounds, rebuilding in six years. Both options include an in-season accountability measure and mitigate short-term impacts to the fishery by allowing moderate catch levels, while still rebuilding the stock within 10 years.
 
The SSC also supported an experimental fishing permit application submitted by the Hawaii Longline Association to test tori line efficacy without the use of blue-dyed bait when fishing north of 23 °N. Field trials of tori lines conducted in 2019 indicate albatrosses are at least 2 times less likely to interact with longline gear or bait when the bird scaring lines are used in conjunction with the required blue-dyed bait. Data from the Hawaiʻi longline fishery have shown that blue-dyed bait is less effective than side-setting, another seabird mitigation measure required in the fishery.
 
The permit would allow additional at-sea trials by providing an exemption to the existing seabird mitigation measures under the Council’s Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan requiring the Hawaiʻi deep-set longline fishery use blue-dyed bait when stern-setting in this region. The study will inform the Council’s discussion on modifying seabird mitigation measures in the longline fishery.
 
Recommendations made by the SSC on these and other matters will be considered by the Council when it meets Dec. 2-4, 2020, virtually with host sites at BRI Building, Suite 205, Kopa Di Oru St., Garapan, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); and Tedi of Samoa Building, Suite 208B, Fagatogo Village, American Samoa. Instructions on connecting to the web conference, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars. Host sites are subject to local and federal safety and health guidelines regarding COVID-19; check the Council website for updates.
Scientific and Statistical Committee: James Lynch (Sierra Pacific Industries) (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); Jason Helyer (Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources); Ray Hilborn (University of Washington); Justin Hospital (NMFS Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center (PIFSC)); David Itano (fisheries consultant); Donald Kobayashi (NMFS PIFSC); Steve Martell (SeaState, Inc.); Domingo Ochavillo (American Samoa Dept. of Marine and Wildlife 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 Hawai‘i governors: Archie Soliai (American Samoa) (chair); Michael Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i); and 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; and 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): Michael Brakke, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and RADM Matthew Sibley, USCG 14th District.

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