Press Release: Fishing Returns to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands After 15 Years ( 8 December 2022)

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HONOLULU (8 December 2022) Fishery managers from across the Western Pacific recommended fishing regulations yesterday for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) Expansion Area. Members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council recommended the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorize noncommercial and Native Hawaiian subsistence fishing from 50 to 200 nautical miles around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). For Native Hawaiian practices, this would include an opportunity to recover fishing costs up to $15,000 per trip.

The Council member discussion over the past few days has been lively.

“It is important to provide this opportunity for people in the Pacific, specifically Hawai‘i, to provide food for their community, especially areas that have been culturally their place to fish,” said American Samoa Council member Will Sword. “We can also take advantage of the chance to gather much needed data.”

“I’m concerned that any action we take here will define our culture and its evolution,” said Manny Dueñas, Council member from Guam. “In the end, we are looking at ways to sustain our native peoples and see them flourish like hundreds of years ago.”

In discussing cost recovery, Council member McGrew Rice said, “By my estimate, if a 1-day trip to the NWHI costs $3,000 plus fuel, most people can’t afford this without being able to recoup their costs.” This echoes sentiments heard from the public at meetings the Council held across Hawai‘i in November. Cost recovery includes actual trip expenses like fuel, bait and ice. The NWHI are 400 miles from the main Hawaiian Islands, and take two days to reach by boat.

Some members disagreed with the final recommendation. David Sakoda, the State of Hawai‘i representative, was concerned with dissolving established Native Hawaiian rights under the State Constitution. “We don’t want to water down customary and traditional rights by extending beyond what is included in the Constitution,” said Sakoda. The State was amenable to cost recovery, as long as it was only included in the noncommercial fishing permit.

Hawai‘i Council member Shae Kamaka‘ala said, “I feel the term Native Hawaiian subsistence is much too narrow. Native Hawaiian practice permits are in place for the original monument area, and it is a more appropriate term to describe the broader human interaction in that space.”

The Council has had an indigenous fishing rights standing committee since the 1980s, and from 2006 to 2017, supported a Puwalu (conference) series of 10 meetings to identify traditional fishing practices in Hawai‘i to inform management decisions.

The Council approved the fishing regulations in the Monument Expansion Area with two dissensions and two abstentions, and included prohibiting commercial fishing, limiting gear types and catch limits for managed pelagic and bottomfish species. NMFS and the Council will report fishery performance indicators such as number of permits issued, and catch and effort information in the annual Hawai‘i and Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan reports.

In 2016, Presidential Proclamation No. 9478 set aside an area of 50 to 200 nautical miles (the outer boundary of the U.S. exclusive economic zone) adjacent to the PMNM. The Proclamation provides for management of activities and species under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including noncommercial fishing and Native Hawaiian practices.

An improved shark conservation and management measure proposed by the United States and Canada was adopted at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam held last week, effective Jan. 1, 2024. The measure to prohibit wire leaders and shark lines in tuna and billfish longline vessels from 20 degrees north latitude to 20 degrees south latitude is consistent with the Council’s MSA 304(i) international recommendations. It also contains safe release provisions for non-retained sharks and extends obligations for fins to be naturally attached to carcasses through 2024. Fishing vessels are instructed to release non-retained sharks as soon as possible, taking into consideration the safety of the crew and observer by using a line cutter to cut the branchline as close to the hook as possible.

The Council recommended an annual catch limit of 457 tons of striped marlin for the U.S. longline fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, consistent with previous Council action and a WCPFC measure. The Council also recommended an annual retention limit of 443 tons as an accountability measure. If the limit is reached, the fishery would not be allowed to retain striped marlin, but other fisheries would not be restricted. The Council will reevaluate this catch limit when a new stock assessment is available from a scientific services provider (ISC), anticipated in 2023.

The Council took final action to establish a long-term sustainable aquaculture program in the Western Pacific Region. This revises a recommendation from the September 2022 meeting that inadvertently omitted that an amendment be made to all five of the Council’s fishery ecosystem plans for the region. This program is needed to provide the Council and NMFS with a framework to review and authorize aquaculture development and activities in federal waters of the U.S. EEZ.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (vice chair); Judith Guthertz, University of Guam (Guam); Shaelene Kamaka‘ala, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (Hawai‘i); Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (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 Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources (chair). Designated federal officials (voting): Sarah Malloy (acting), NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Mike Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.

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