Press Release – U.S. Pacific Fishery Managers Urge Increase in U.S. Bigeye Tuna Quota at Upcoming Multilateral Meeting, Support New Industry-Backed Shark Conservation Measures (03 December 2020)

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HONOLULU (03 December 2020) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council supported the U.S. proposal to revise the conservation and management measure for tropical tunas, which expires in February 2021, and increase the U.S. bigeye tuna quota by 3,000 metric tons (mt) to 6,554 mt. The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (Commission), an international fishery management organization, begins (virtually) next week. The stock is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. In the past, U.S. negotiations in the Commission have failed to increase its bigeye tuna quota. The United States has the smallest catch quota of the member nations, yet it contributes the highest observer coverage and the highest compliance record. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, observer coverage has been maintained.
 
The United States has been generous to member countries of the Commission. In 2018, the United States Agency for International Development reported $1.6 billion went to Commission members, mainly supporting economic development. “U.S. fisheries are the best managed in the world and the Hawaiʻi longline fishery deserves an increase in their bigeye quota,” said Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds. The Council also endorsed the U.S. proposal for North Pacific striped marlin that supports meeting the rebuilding plan adopted by the Commission.
 
To meet Magnuson-Stevens Act domestic obligations regarding overfishing of striped marlin, the Council directed the staff to prepare a regulatory measure that uses the best scientific information available (BSIA) to reduce domestic catches relative to 2013-2017 as advised in a 2019 stock assessment.
A conservation effort developed by the Hawaiʻi deep-set longline fishing industry to further reduce interactions and post-hooking deaths of oceanic whitetip sharks, leatherback turtles and other protected species will be considered for incorporation into the Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, at the direction of the Council. The Council directed staff to prepare a regulatory amendment by its March 2021 meeting that, among other measures, evaluates options prohibiting wire leaders in the fishery.
 
The Hawaii Longline Association (HLA) presented its initiative to voluntarily change the fleet’s gear to the Council which met in Honolulu this week. The proposal would replace the current wire leaders used on fishing gear with monofilament ones, which are better for the species that occasionally interact with them.
 
“The fishing gear transition from wire to monofilament nylon leaders is transformational for our fleet,” said HLA Executive Director Eric Kingma. Council member Michael Tosatto, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office, said, “We at NOAA Fisheries applaud HLA for this proactive, positive development and we are committed to helping industry with its implementation.”
 
Whether or not any proposed regulatory change could be implemented before next summer, the HLA has committed to making this change on all of the vessels operated by their members no later than July 2021. The HLA is currently evaluating changes to fishing procedures to ensure that the gear change can be made while minimizing risk of injury to crewmembers. 
 
The Council concluded the first day of its three-day virtual meeting yesterday with discussions and recommendations regarding pelagic and international fisheries. The meeting continues through Dec. 4, 2020, by web conference (Webex). Instructions on connecting to Webex, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars
 
The Council manages federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai‘i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Areas.

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