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Press Release – Federally Managed Fisheries in US Pacific Islands Face a Mixed Future (21 March 2019)

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Executive Director Kitty Simonds (center) with Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council members (from left) Vice Chair John Gourley (Northern Mariana Islands), Chair Archie Soliai (American Samoa), RAdm. Kevin Lunday (commander of the 14th US Coast Guard District) and Vice Chairs Dean Sensui (Hawai‘i), Christinne Lutu-Sanchez (American Samoa) and Michael Duenas (Guam).

HONOLULU (21 March 2019) Federal fishery managers concluded their meeting in Honolulu today after dealing since Tuesday with a mixed bag of good and bad news about the future of fisheries in Hawai‘i and the US Pacific islands.

On the good side, a 2018 stock assessment estimates the Hawai‘i Kona crabs maximum sustainable yield at 73,069 pounds. The fishery has reported catch below 3,000 pounds in 2015 and 2016, indicating the potential for a lot of growth. However, participants have left the fishery (which landed 70,000 pounds in the 1970s) since the State of Hawai‘i banned the retention of female Kona crabs. The Council recommended that the Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) record female crab and minimum size discards separately on the fisherman trip reports to provide a more comprehensive record of commercial catch. It also requested that DAR remove the statute that prohibits take of female Kona crabs and consider revised regulations to extend or shift the closed season to protect berried females.

Other good news is that a recent economic report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found the Hawai‘i charter fishery generated close to $50 million in gross sales and supported nearly 900 jobs statewide in 2011. The Council encouraged NMFS to maintain a regular schedule of economic evaluations and monitoring of the fisheries in the Pacific islands.

On the bleaker side, the Council discussed the ongoing UN Intergovernmental Conference on Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which is considering a framework to establish fishing closures on the high seas. The Council asked the Department of State, which has a non-voting representative on the Council, to exempt high seas fisheries targeting tuna and tuna-like species from any potential high seas closures established under the new BBNJ convention. About 70 percent of the fishing effort of the Hawai‘i based longline fishery is on the high seas.

Besides area closures, the fisheries of Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are dealing with Congressional legislation that have restricted the sale of billfish and may prohibit the commercial sale of legally caught sharks. The Billfish Conservation Act amendment that was signed into law in 2018 requires that billfish caught by fisheries in Hawai‘i and the US Pacific Islands territories must be retained in the islands. The legislation closed the islands’ access to established high-end markets for billfish on the US mainland and in foreign countries. Swordfish is excluded from the billfish definition under the Act. The Council has asked NMFS to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts on US Pacific Island fisheries from the 2018 amendment. As for sharks, the Council is writing to the Secretary of Commerce regarding the proposed legislation, as it appears to conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and existing federal regulations that allow and require the sustainable harvest and landing of whole sharks.

The Council believes that public understanding about the socioeconomic importance and employment opportunities that fisheries afford to the islands needs to be improved. Therefore, it revised its fishery capacity-building memorandum of understanding with local and federal fishery agencies to include grade schools as well as higher education institutions.

For the agenda and background materials on the meeting, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.

The Council was established by Congress in 1976 and has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai‘i, Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI and the Pacific remote islands. Recommendations that are regulatory in nature are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and then implemented by NMFS and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (acting chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawaii) (vice chair); Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Edwin Watamura (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii 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 Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.

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Press Release – Modern Recreational Fisheries Management Act Implications in the Western Pacific Region (10 January 2019)

HONOLULU (10 January 2019) On the last day of 2018, President Trump signed into law the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S. 1520), also known as the Modern Fish Act. The bill, which had been stagnant since its introduction in 2017, was pushed through by the efforts of the same coalition of sports fishing organizations that earlier in the year supported the amended Billfish Conservation Act of 2012. The amended Billfish Act had major consequences for the commercial fisheries in Hawaii and the US Pacific Island territories by banning interstate commerce of a sustainable, traditional fishery in the islands. The Modern Fish Act, on the other hand, is more targeted toward the management of recreational fisheries in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico but may have implications for fisheries management in the Western Pacific Region, i.e., the US Pacific Islands.
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