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Press Release – New Turtle Limits Recommended to Re-Open Swordfish Fishery (15 April 2019)

HONOLULU (15 April 2019) Federal fishery managers on Friday concluded its nearly year-long effort to provide relief to the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council at its 177th Meeting held on April 12, 2019, recommended revised fleet-wide sea turtle interaction limits along with new individual trip-based interaction limits. A recent draft Biological Opinion (BiOp) developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided managers with a basis for a new limit for loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions, potentially allowing the fishery to be re-opened this year. The fishery closed this year on March 19 due to interactions with 17 loggerhead turtles, all of which were released alive.

Every vessel for every trip of the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery has a federal observer that ensures accurate monitoring of interactions with protected species. 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 cap of 17 may be modified when NMFS finalizes the new BiOp for the fishery and issues new regulations based on the Council’s recommendations.

In June 2018, the Council recommended annual limits of North Pacific loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions consistent with what was set forth in the upcoming BiOp. The draft BiOp released on March 28, 2019, requires NMFS to set an annual limit of 36 loggerhead turtles and 16 leatherback turtles for this fishery. The Council recommended these limits to be implemented under regulations for the Council’s Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and further recommended that the existing turtle interactions occurring from January 1 to March 19, 2019, apply toward the new limits, essentially allowing the fishery to re-open.

The Council maintained its June 2018 recommendation to implement an individual trip limit of five loggerhead turtles, and additionally recommended a trip limit of two leatherback turtles. If a vessel reaches either of the limits during a fishing trip, the vessel must return to port but would be allowed to target swordfish again on the next trip.

The Council’s recommendation was in contrast to annual vessel-based limits of six loggerhead turtles and two leatherback turtles that NMFS is proposing in the draft BiOp, which would prohibit vessels from targeting swordfish for the remainder of the year if they reached their individual limit. The Council found that this measure would create undue economic hardship to the fishery while providing little additional turtle conservation benefit.

Roger Dang, whose family has fished with longline vessels out of Hawai’i for more than 30 years, criticized the vessel limit proposed in draft BiOp. “This is not the solution,” he said. A vessel limit of two leatherback interactions would deter vessels from entering the shallow-set fishery to target swordfish and thus diminish the fleet’s ability to provide swordfish for the US domestic market, he explained. “Ecuador in the last year, from 2017 to 2018, increased its production by almost 100 percent, Costa Rica 80 percent, and they’re both bigger fisheries than the Hawai’i product,” Dang added. “The majority of the swordfish product in the US right now is the South American product.”

“The Council’s recommendation today, although highly restrictive on the fleet, will allow Hawai’i vessels to continue supplying fresh, highly monitored swordfish while supporting industry-led solutions to addressing rare sea turtle interactions in the fishery,” said Eric Kingma, executive director of the Hawai’i Longline Association. Dean Sensui, the Council’s Hawai’i vice chair, added “The actions taken by the Council today ensures that Hawai’i’s fishermen continue to provide fresh sustainable seafood to the community and at the same time adds additional protection for sea turtles in the Western Pacific.” The Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery operates in waters North of Hawai’i and catches swordfish that is sold both in Hawai’i and the US Mainland. It produces approximately half of the US domestic swordfish.

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 Hawai’i governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Michael Duenas, fisherman (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, film producer (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing (CNMI); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’i). Designated state officials: Suzanne Case, Hawai’i Department of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muna-Brecht, Guam Department of Agriculture; Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Henry Sesepasara, 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 – New Dates, Times for Meeting to Address Sea Turtles Interactions with Hawaii Longline Fishery for Sustainably Caught Swordfish (29 March 2019)

HONOLULU (29 March 2019)

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has announced that the Biological Opinion (BiOp) Review Advisory Panel meeting scheduled for April 2 and the 177th Council meeting scheduled to be held April 4 have been postponed. The new date and time for the BiOp Review Advisory Panel is April 12 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST). The agenda is review of the BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish. The new date for the Council meeting is April 12 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (HST) or noon to 3 p.m. Samoa Standard Time and April 13 from 9 a.m. to noon Chamorro Standard Time. The meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The Council will discuss the Draft BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish as well as management of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in that fishery (final action).

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The Hawaii longline swordfish fishery closed on March 19 after it interacted with the 17th loggerhead turtle for the year. All of the turtles were released alive. The fishery has 100 percent observer coverage, i.e., a federal observer is on every vessel on every trip to monitor protected species interactions. This observer coverage level is extraordinary and an order of magnitude higher than other competing fishing nations. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission requirement is only 5 percent coverage, which most other nations have not met. The United States also operates with measures to reduce and report bycatch at levels that other fishing nations do not implement.
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“Closure of this healthy, underutilized fishery is not only an economic loss for the Hawaii fishery but also has no discernible stock conservation benefit for the Pacific,” notes Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds. “The catch from the Hawaii fleet will be supplanted by the catch from foreign fleets that have far less monitoring and bycatch mitigation.”
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The United States was usurped by Taiwan in the late 1990s as the second leading fishing nation to harvest North Pacific swordfish (Japan leads in landings) as US landings declined. The Hawaii fishery accounted for between 55 percent (2017 and 2008) to 34 percent (2012) of the US domestic swordfish landings.
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Projections of the stock through 2026 along with recommendations by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean determined that the stock is not fully utilized and could withstand a significant, yet sustainable increase in harvest. Such an increase in harvest of about 50 percent from recent catches to near maximum sustainable yield would maintain a healthy stock.
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The North Pacific swordfish stock was assessed in 2018 and determined to be nearly double spawning stock biomass at maximum sustainable yield (87 percent over SSBMSY) with fishing mortality determined to be less than half of fishing mortality at maximum sustainable yield (45 percent of FMSY). Spawning stock biomass has increased nearly by 10,000 metric tons since 2000 and has not breached below its commonly used biological reference point (SSBMSY) in any year in the stock’s assessment timeline (1975-2016). The stock had only been considered to be experiencing overfishing (breaching FMSY) in 1993.
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Lack of supply from the sustainable Hawaii shallow-set fishery may increase pressure on other swordfish stocks to meet market demands. This may have inadvertent consequences to stocks, such as those in the Atlantic, that are not as healthy as the North Pacific stock.
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The BiOp Review Advisory Panel meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The host site is the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu. The teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220. The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov.
The 177th Council meeting teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220.
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The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. Host sites are a) Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu; b) Native American Samoa Advisory Council Office Conference Rm., Pava’ia’i Village, Pago Pago, American Samoa; c) Guam Hilton Resort and Spa, 202 Hilton Rd., Tumon Bay, Guam; and d) Department of Land and Natural Resources Conference Rm., Lower Base Dr., Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
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For the agendas and background materials on the meetings, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.
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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 that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.
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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); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawaii) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing (CNMI); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (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 – 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.

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Winter 2019 Pacific Islands Fishery Newsletter

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