post

Press Release – Federal Managers Finalize Turtle Interaction Measures with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (9 August 2019)

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NMFS.

HONOLULU (9 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council met yesterday to amend the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan with revisions to the loggerhead and leatherback turtle mitigation measures for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery. The amendment sets an annual fleet-wide hard cap limit on the number of leatherback turtle interactions at 16. An interaction occurs whenever a sea turtle becomes hooked or entangled in longline gear. Few interactions lead to serious injury or mortality of the animal, which is normally released unharmed. The Council did not recommend setting an annual fleet-wide hard cap for loggerheads in light of that species’ improving population trends and other mitigation measures, but the Council retains the authority to set a hard cap limit in the future if necessary.
 
To limit the impact of interactions on sea turtles and to promote year-round fishing opportunities, the Council further recommended the establishment of individual trip interaction limits of five loggerheads and two leatherback turtles. Once a vessel reaches either of these trip limits, the vessel is required to return to port, and will be prohibited from engaging in shallow-set longline fishing for five days after returning. This action is expected to allow sea turtle “hot spots” to disperse, while encouraging fishermen to take action to avoid sea turtle interactions before the trip limits are reached.
 
Additional restrictions set trip limits on each vessel – any vessel that reaches the trip limit twice for either leatherback or loggerhead sea turtles in a calendar year will be prohibited from shallow-set longline fishing for the remainder of that year. The following calendar year, these vessels will have an annual vessel limit equivalent to a single trip limit – either five loggerheads or two leatherbacks. These additional vessel restrictions are measures required under a new biological opinion (BiOp) prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
 
In the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee report, the Committee noted that in light of the BiOp finding that the fishery does not jeopardize the continued existence of these sea turtles, the additional restrictions are punitive and are not supported by the scientific information that the fishery has no adverse impacts to the overall loggerhead and leatherback populations.
 
NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto reminded the Council that it is their “mandate to minimize interactions with protected species…minimize means approach zero.”
 
“You’ve heard the expression barking up the wrong tree – we’re swimming in the wrong ocean,” said Council member Ed Watamura, pointing to the disproportionate impact that the Hawai’i fleet experiences from the US government’s strict regulations. With almost 100 percent of the incidentally hooked turtles returning to the ocean alive, the Hawai’i swordfish fishery has had negligible impact on the leatherback and loggerhead turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean, especially when considering the relative impacts from foreign fleets. Threats to loggerhead and leatherback turtles in other parts of the populations’ range include bycatch in artisanal and coastal fisheries in the Western Pacific, direct harvesting of eggs and adult turtles, nest predation by feral animals, beach nesting habitat alteration, and climate change.
 
The Council did not recommend setting a fleet-wide interaction limit for loggerhead turtles, recognizing that the status of the population has improved since the Council first recommended implementing hard caps for the shallow-set longline fishery in 2004. A recent population assessment of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles showed that the population is growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent, and the total is estimated at 340,000 individuals. Considering this population growth and the additional restrictions on trip limits, the Council found that the fleet-wide hard cap limit for loggerhead turtles is no longer necessary or appropriate to conserve the species.
 
Final action taken yesterday by the Council was a culmination of a nearly two-year process to improve measures for managing loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions in the fishery that produces nearly half of the US domestic swordfish. The process was stalled for nearly a year due to NMFS’ delay in completing the new BiOp, which was originally scheduled to be completed in October 2018. The Council’s final recommendation will be forwarded to the Secretary of Commerce, followed by a rule making process including a public comment period.
 
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Council has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands.
 
For the meeting agenda and background materials, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info@wpcouncil.org or (808) 522-8220.
 
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai'i 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 Sesepasara, 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. 
post

Press Release – Federal Managers to Make Final Recommendations on Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Interactions with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (6 August 2019)

Leatherback sea turtle. Photo courtesy USFWS.

HONOLULU (6 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet on Aug. 8, 2019, to consider final recommendations on the management of the Hawai’i swordfish fishery’s interactions with leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided a final biological opinion (BiOp) during the 178th Council meeting in June 2019 (originally due October 2018), but the Council deferred action at the time to allow adequate time to review the final BiOp.

The final BiOp determined that the swordfish fishery is not jeopardizing the continued existence of these sea turtles and authorizes the accidental hooking and subsequent release of 21 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. Based on observer data since 1994, 100 percent of leatherback turtles and over 99 percent of loggerhead turtles observed in this fishery have been released alive with a high chance of survival. Despite finding that the impacts of the fishery are not expected to appreciably reduce these two populations’ likelihood of surviving and recovering in the wild, the final BiOp requires additional measures to further reduce incidental captures and mortalities. Specifically, if the fleetwide leatherback interaction reaches the “hard cap” of 16, the BiOp requires that the fishery be closed for the remainder of the calendar year.

The final BiOp also requires implementing individual trip limits of two leatherback or five loggerhead interactions per vessel per trip. However, once a vessel reaches a trip limit twice in a year, it will be prohibited from shallow-set fishing for the remainder of the year, and the vessel will be subject to an annual vessel limit of 2 leatherbacks or 5 loggerheads for the following year. There is no hard cap required in the new BiOp for loggerhead turtles, which has a stable and increasing population.

Over the last five years in the North Pacific Ocean, approximately 99 million hooks were deployed overall in shallow-set longline fisheries annually (reported by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission). Of those, on average 1.2 million hooks (about 1 percent) are deployed annually by the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

“We know what the US shallow-set longline fishing impacts are on loggerheads and leatherbacks in the Pacific due to our 100 percent observer coverage,” remarked Council Chairman Archie Soliai. “When other countries are struggling to meet the internationally-required 5 percent observer coverage, how much confidence do we have about the loggerhead and leatherback impacts for the remaining 98 million hooks set?”

The Council’s recommendation from its 177th meeting in April 2019 was to manage the fishery under annual fleetwide hard cap limits of 16 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. The Council initially put the hard caps in place in 2004 as a backup measure when new bait and gear changes were implemented, which, along with other measures, reduced interactions by about 90 percent. The Council also recommended individual trip interaction limits of two leatherbacks and five loggerheads. Once either limit is reached, the vessel would be required to immediately return to port, after which they may resume shallow-set fishing. The original Council recommendations were much simpler and did not include additional vessel restrictions.

The Council will take all information into account, including the measures required under the final BiOp, when it considers final action this week.

The Council’s Hawai‘i Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan Advisory Panel (AP) and Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) will meet on Aug. 7, 2019, in advance of the Council meeting to discuss recommendations to the Council for the final action on managing loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

The AP, SSC and Council meetings can be attended remotely by web conference at: https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. The Council office will also serve as a meeting host site: 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu, Hawai’i. Council meeting documents available on our website (www.wpcouncil.org) include the Federal Register notice, Council meeting agenda, a summary of the action item, a draft amendment to the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, and the full Endangered Species Act BiOp from NMFS.

 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 Sesepasara, 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. 
post

Press Release – Managers, Fishermen Grapple with Federal Pace, Definitions Leading to Fishery Closures (20 March 2019)

HONOLULU (20 March 2019) At 9:40 a.m. yesterday, minutes after Kitty M. Simonds completed the executive director’s report to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, the Hawai’i-based fishery was closed due to the fishery’s interaction with a 17th loggerhead turtle this year. The Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish has a federal observer on every vessel for every trip. The North Pacific loggerhead population is growing annually at 2.4 percent, but a court settlement in May 2018 reduced the fishery’s allowable interaction with the species from 34 to 17. The interaction cap of 17 cannot be modified until the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) completes a new biological opinion (BiOp) for the fishery.

The Council, which is mandated by Congress to develop management measures for offshore US fisheries in the Pacific islands region, has been waiting for NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) to deliver the new BiOp so the Council can move forward with proposed new loggerhead limits and other turtle interaction mitigation measures for the fishery. The shutdown reinforced Simonds’ core message, that the “pace with which NMFS PIRO responds to federal and legal procedures has left all of the region’s major fisheries at risk.”

Upon hearing the news of the shutdown, Roger Dang, whose family has fished with longline vessels out of Hawai’i for more than 30 years, immediately sent a message to the Council. Council member Michael Goto read the statement to the Council.

I am writing to you tonight from the Seafood Show in Boston on behalf of the entire community of Hawai’i’s swordfish fleet and others in the fishing industry, including fish buyers and wholesalers, fishing gear and bait suppliers, and logistics companies, to express how highly untimely and unfortunate this is for all of us. We have all spent the last several months working with some of the largest swordfish buyers in the US to develop a buying and shipping program to support the US/Hawaii swordfish fishery. These buyers initially expressed concerns on the reliability and continuity of supply because of the hard cap being reached in 2018. Still, they committed since the start of the 2019 season and, just as recently as yesterday, agreed to decrease their reliance on foreign imported swordfish and increase their purchases of Hawaii swordfish. … The lengthy delay of a biological opinion was critical for us, and we feel the agency has failed us greatly. This has directly caused our mainland US partners to lose confidence in our ability to sustain production, and I fear that they will continue to discount Hawaii as a reliable source of swordfish going into the future.”

The Hawai’i longline fishery provides between 50 and 60 percent of the domestic production of swordfish in the United States. The North Pacific swordfish stock is healthy and is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. About 94 percent of the seafood consumed in the nation is imported.

Besides the new BiOp for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery, the Council is waiting for the agency to develop new BiOps on the Hawai’i deep-water longline fishery for bigeye tuna, American Samoa longline fishery for albacore and the US tropical purse-seine fishery for skipjack tuna in regards to oceanic white tip shark. NMFS listed this shark as threatened under the ESA in January 2018.

Besides the new BiOp for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery, the Council is waiting for the agency to develop new BiOps on the Hawai’i deep-water longline fishery for bigeye tuna, American Samoa longline fishery for albacore and the US tropical purse-seine fishery for skipjack tuna in regards to oceanic white tip shark. NMFS listed this shark as threatened under the ESA in January 2018.

Ramifications from a delayed BiOp for the American Samoa fishery could be “catastrophic” for the Territory, said Council Chair Archie Soliai. The fishery provides the StarKist Samoa cannery, the Territory’s largest private-sector employer, with MSC-certified albacore tuna needed for its Blue Harbor label and US fish needed for certain government contracts, such as school lunch programs and military MREs (meals ready to eat). “The fishery needs support in order to sustain operations and maintain jobs,” Soliai added.

Council Vice Chair Christinna Lutu-Sanchez said that fishery participants have been hopeful that the Council’s recommendation that a portion of the American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) be opened to the American Samoa longline vessels would help the fishery with economic struggles it has experienced in recent years. Those struggles have caused fishery participation and catch to plummet to the point that the fishery is on the brink of disappearing. The LVPA amendment, which intends to bring relief to the fishery, cannot move forward until the BiOp is completed.

In addition, in January 2018 the Hawai’i deep-set longline fishery was shut out of the 132,000 square mile area known as the Southern Exclusion Zone (SEZ), which leaves less than 18 percent of the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Hawai’i open to the fishery. That closure was triggered when that fishery had a second interaction with a false killer whale that NMFS considered would result in mortality and serious injury (M&SI). If a false killer whale is released alive with any fishing gear, regardless of the length, NMFS in most cases considers the interaction to be a serious injury. Besides the SEZ, fisheries are banned from the 582,578 square miles of US waters comprising the marine national monument in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Longlining is also prohibited within 50 to 75 nautical miles of the main Hawaiian Islands, based on regulations developed by the Council in the 1990s.

Council member McGrew Rice, a full-time Kona charter boat fisherman, questioned the NMFS criteria for determining M&SI. “The way NMFS set up serious injury is not appropriate and is hurting the fishermen. The animals are still surviving,” he said. “For example,” he added, “I catch three to six marlins a year that have hooks and lines and are feeding. … That issue really needs to be carefully looked at to change the rule as to what is really M&SI for false killer whales.” 

The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that advises the Council, last week, asked that NMFS develop serious-injury determination criteria for false killer whales that are probability-based.

The SEZ may reopen in 2020 if the average estimated false killer whale M&SI in the deep-set longline fishery within the remaining open areas of the EEZ around Hawai’i for up to the five most recent years is below the potential biological removal (PBR) for the species. The PBR is defined by the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the maximum number of animals that can be removed, not including natural mortalities, from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach and maintain its optimum sustainable population, i.e., its maximum productivity keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and health of the ecosystem. The SSC recommended that the Council request NMFS develop approaches to incorporate population viability analysis (PVA) to supplement the use of PBR and to reduce uncertainty in PBR estimates. PVA is a species-specific risk assessment method frequently used in conservation biology. The SSC also requested that the Council ask NMFS to provide the data needed for the SSC to develop the PVA in parallel to the NMFS process.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Secretary of Commerce (under which NMFS operates) “shall provide assistance to Regional Fishery Management Councils … in meeting the goal of reducing incidental mortality and serious injury ….” 

The Council meeting concludes tomorrow at the YWCA Fuller Hall, 1040 Richards St., Honolulu. For the agenda and background materials, including how to connect to the meeting via webex, go to www.wpcouncil.org/category/upcoming-council-and-advisory-body-meetings or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.

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.

gallery

Press Release – Turtles, Whales, Birds among Fishery Science Discussions This Week in Honolulu (12 March 2019)

HONOLULU (12 March 2019) Renowned scientists from throughout the Pacific began a three-day meeting today in Honolulu to consider a range of issues facing the offshore fisheries of Hawai‘i and the US Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Recommendations from this group known as the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) will be forwarded to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which meets in Honolulu on March 18-21. The Council develops fishery management measures for the fisheries, which are transmitted to the US Secretary of Commerce for approval and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Click read more


Read More ª