Press Release – Scientists to Set Acceptable Biological Catch for American Samoa Bottomfish and Consider Rebuilding Plan Options (24 November 2020)
HONOLULU (24 November 2020) Scientists from throughout the Pacific will meet Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, 2020, to discuss fishery management issues and make management recommendations for fisheries in the Western Pacific Region. The meeting of the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will be held virtually and is open to the public. The full agenda, background documents and instructions for connecting to the meeting and providing oral public comments are available at www.wpcouncil.org/event/138th-scientific-and-statistical-committee-meeting. Among the agenda items are the following:
American Samoa Bottomfish
The SSC will set the acceptable biological catch for the American Samoa bottomfish fishery for fishing years 2021-2022. The best scientific information available for fishery management decisions is the 2019 stock assessment from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with catch projections to 2025. Based on this information, the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is estimated to be 20,800 pounds and the overfishing limit in 2022 is 5,000 pounds. A panel of fishermen, fishery scientists and managers evaluated the scientific uncertainties associated with the assessment and quantified a risk level for the SSC to consider.
The 2019 benchmark stock assessment found the American Samoa bottomfish fishery to be overfished and subject to overfishing. The Council, in consultation with its SSC, must develop and implement within two years a plan that would rebuild the overfished stock within 10 years. At the same time, the Council must immediately end overfishing. The current projection from NMFS shows the stock could rebuild within 10 years with an annual catch limit ranging between 0 to 1,500 pounds. NMFS has issued a final rule to implement an interim catch limit of 13,000 pounds that would reduce overfishing and allow biomass to increase while minimizing socio-economic impacts to fishing communities. At the end of the 2020 interim measure, NMFS will review the performance of the fishery and could extend the measure for an additional period not to exceed 186 days in 2021.
The SSC may provide scientific advice on potential options that could simultaneously rebuild the bottomfish stock and end overfishing.
The NMFS 2019 stock assessment found the Guam bottomfish stock to be overfished, but not experiencing overfishing. At its March 2020 meeting, the Council voted to specify the annual catch limit for the bottomfish fishery at 27,000 pounds for fishing years 2020 to 2023. This annual catch level would allow the biomass to rebuild to MSY within four years (2024). However, there are no accountability measures in place that would guarantee that the catch would be kept below this level. The SSC is scheduled to discuss the rebuilding plan options and may provide advice to the Council.
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks
The Council’s Oceanic Whitetip Shark Working Group met and recommended research priorities and identified improvements needed to reduce fishery impacts on the species. Incidental catches of oceanic whitetip sharks have declined since international non-retention measures were enacted throughout the Pacific. According to projections, the stock should recover if catches remain 10-20% below 2016 levels. U.S. impacts on the population are expected to remain low relative to foreign fisheries, with U.S. longline fisheries impacting 1.2% of spawning potential by 2031. Based on the working group’s findings, the SSC may have recommendations on observer coverage and improved handling of released sharks, such as reducing trailing gear.
North Pacific Striped Marlin
Based on a Council recommendation to phase in catch reductions for striped marlin, the SSC will review and may recommend catch and/or effort levels for North Pacific striped marlin and allocations for international catch limits. The stock has been internationally overfished per a 2019 NMFS stock assessment presented at the June 2020 Council meeting. The Council is required to address, within one year, relative impacts of domestic fisheries and international overfishing per the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. U.S. Pacific fisheries, including the Hawaiʻi longline fishery, landed approximately 22% of reported North Pacific striped marlin catch from 2013 to 2017.
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 will be 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.