Marine Spatial Management

Our Western Pacific Region has the largest marine jurisdiction of the councils, covering more than 1.5 million square nautical miles (nm) and including one state (Hawaii), two territories (American Samoa and Guam), one commonwealth (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI), and several Pacific Remote Island Areas. The Council and its advisory bodies routinely explore the utility of area-based management tools in relation to fisheries management, which encompass more than marine protected areas. In 1986, the Council closed the entire US exclusive economic zone around Hawaii to bottom trawling to protect seafloor and other non-target species. The Council was the first to establish large area closures to pelagic fisheries, beginning in 1991 throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. The Council’s adaptive and iterative “bottom-up” process is by design, providing the opportunity for stakeholder input on area-based management.

National Marine Sanctuary Proposals

Under the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce is authorized to designate areas in the ocean as national marine sanctuaries to promote comprehensive management of their special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research, educational or aesthetic resources. There are three sanctuary proposals located in the Western Pacific Region: the Pacific Remote Islands, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) and Mariana Trench.

As part of the designation process, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) works with the Council to assess and determine the need for fishery regulations to meet the goals and objectives of the sanctuary. The Council can recommend fishing regulations, recommend that fishing regulations are not necessary, or decline to act. The Secretary of Commerce may develop fishing regulations if the Council proposes regulations that do not meet the goals and objectives of the sanctuary, refuses to recommend regulations, or fails to act in a timely manner.
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Proposed National Marine Sanctuary around the Pacific Remote Islands

L-R: Frank Barron, Will Sword, Ricardo DeRosa, and Jason Betham. Photocredit: KKHJ.FM.

On March 11, 2023, the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition submitted a National Marine Sanctuary nomination to NOAA protect U.S. waters to the extent of the EEZ around the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI). On March 21, 2023, President Biden directed the Secretary of Commerce to consider initiating the designation process for the nomination  within 30 days. The White House fact sheet stated this action would reach the President’s goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. ocean waters by 2030. On April 17, 2023, ONMS issued a Notice of Intent to conduct scoping and to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed designation.  ONMS held public meetings in May 2023. Public comments on the designation were due June 2, 2023 and can be found here on the website.

On May 17, 2023, Council member Will Sword, American Samoa Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jason Betham, and Ricardo DeRosa, owner of the Pacific Princes purse seiner, did a radio interview with 93 KHJ ahead of the NOAA’s May 24 public meeting on the sanctuary proposal. They stated the territory’s tuna canning industry will not survive if the new sanctuary goes ahead. This in turn will have ramifications on the American Samoa Government’s revenues, the cost of fuel, food supplies and every aspect of life in the territory.

Below is the complete 13-minute interview:

PRI Sanctuary-Related Documents

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Proposed National Marine Sanctuary in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

In 2021, NOAA began the public process to designate a National Marine Sanctuary in the NWHI. At its March 2023 meeting, the Council finalized its recommended fishing regulations for the Monument Expansion Area from 50 to 200 miles around the NWHI. The regulations would allow for federal permitting and reporting of non-commercial fishing and Native Hawaiian subsistence fishing practices and prohibit commercial fishing. For more information, see below and visit our NWHI Fisheries page and click on the National Marine Sanctuary Proposal button.

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Proposed Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary

In 2016, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Friends of the Marianas Trench nominated the Mariana Trench as a National Marine Sanctuary. In 2022, the Council provided comments to NOAA on its five-year review of the nomination stating the existing monument management plan should be provided the opportunity to be implemented. NOAA has yet to make a final determination on whether or not the nomination will remain in the inventory for another five-year period.  In August 2023, the Friends of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument withdrew their nomination and requested NOAA remove the proposed sanctuary from the national sanctuary inventory.

  • Friends of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Withdraws Sanctuary Nomination
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    Monuments in the Western Pacific

    The Antiquities Act of 1906 obligates federal agencies that manage public lands to preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative, and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands. It also authorizes the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments.

    In 2006, Presidents began using the Antiquities Act to designate Marine National Monuments. Four of the five such monuments are located in the Western Pacific Region, encompass more than half of the U.S. EEZ waters surrounding Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories and remote islands, and prohibit U.S. commercial fishermen from operating in these U.S. waters. President George W. Bush established the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in June 2006 by Presidential Proclamation 8031; and the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments in January 2009 by Proclamations 8335, 8336, and 8337, respectively.

    President Barack Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands and Papahānaumokuākea monuments in September 2014 by Proclamation 9173 and August 2016 by Proclamation 9478, respectively. In addition to the United States, in 2014 several other countries around the Pacific established marine protected areas or closed large areas to fishing, including Palau, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands.

    The Council has argued that the monument areas are too large and have resulted in negative economic impacts for the U.S. fishing industries and local communities. The areas were already healthy and sustainably managed by the Council prior to the area closures. Management decisions should be based on the best available science and in consultation with local affected communities, not through an arbitrary top-down approach. More research is needed to fully understand the impacts of fishing on each area’s marine resources.

    The Council has used time-area closures for many years as a fishery management tool to help increase fish populations and protect vulnerable species. For example, for six months in 1986 the Council implemented a regional closure to bottomfishing for certain deepwater snappers and groupers in areas surrounding Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI. During this time, fishing vessels were prohibited from using bottom tending gear, such as bottom trawls and bottom set gillnets, within the closed areas.

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    Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

    The PRIMNM comprises seven remote islands and atolls in the central Pacific Ocean: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island. The monument establishment in 2009 closed all waters to commercial fishing and other extractive activities from 0 nm to 50 nm from each island area. President Obama expanded the monument’s boundaries to 200 nm for Wake, Johnston and Jarvis, but fishing was still allowed from 50 nm to 200 nm from Howland and Baker Islands, and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll. It now covers an area of ~490,000 square miles. PRIMNM is cooperatively managed by the Secretary of Commerce (NOAA) and the Secretary of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), with the exception of Wake and Johnston Atolls, which are currently managed by the Department of Defense.

    In 2022, the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition proposed to President Biden to further expand the Monument to encompass the entire EEZ of the PRIA. The Council published a special issue of its Pacific Islands Fishery News newsletter pointing out impacts and unintended consequences of this proposal, capturing discussions at its June 2022 meeting. The proposal was changed to a sanctuary nomination in 2023.

    The Council regulates fishing activities in the PRIMNM through its Pacific Remote Island Areas and Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plans (FEPs). They include marine management zones, protected species provisions, and permit and reporting requirements to foster data collection, monitoring and enforcement.

    Federal Fishing Regulations for PRIMNM

    Compliance Guide for Fishing in PRIMNM

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    Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

    In December 2000 and January 2001, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Orders EO 13178 and EO 13196 to create the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and ensure it had permanent conservation measures. The monument was created in response to a recommendation from the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Advisory Council, which was established in 2000 to provide guidance on the management of the reserve.

    The boundary of the PMNM established in 2006 extended 50 nm around the NWHI. In 2016, President Obama expanded the monument from 50 nm to 200 nm (582,574 square miles). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, the State of Hawaii and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs cooperatively manage the PMNM through a Memorandum of Agreement.

    The Council regulates fishing activities in the PMNM through its Hawaii Archipelago FEP. Under these regulations, all commercial fishing is prohibited. Noncommercial fishing is allowed only within certain areas and with certain gear restrictions. Non-fishing activities, such as research and Native Hawaiian cultural activities, are allowed within the monument with a permit, but are subject to strict guidelines to minimize any impacts on the area’s natural resources.

    Federal Fishing Regulations for PMNM

    PMNM Correspondence

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    Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

    Encompassing the deepest oceanic trench on Earth, the MTMNM covers 95,389 square miles and has three units: the Mariana Trench Unit, the Volcanic Unit, and the Islands Unit. The purpose of this designation was to preserve a diverse range of geological, biological, and cultural resources, including seamounts, underwater volcanoes, and submerged cultural sites. The monument also recognized the cultural and historical significance of the CNMI and the importance to the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian peoples. The MTMNM is cooperatively managed by NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the CNMI government, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

    The Council regulates fishing activities in the MTMNM through its Mariana Archipelago FEP. All commercial fishing is prohibited and noncommercial fishing is allowed within certain areas and with certain gear restrictions. Mining, drilling and other extractive activities are prohibited. Non-fishing activities, such as research and cultural activities, are allowed within the monument with a permit, but are subject to strict guidelines to minimize any impacts on the deep-sea ecosystems.

    Regulations provide for customary exchange, which permits fishermen and the community to exchange fish and other marine resources for goods and/or services for cultural, social, or religious reasons. Customary exchange may include cost recovery through monetary reimbursements for actual trip expenses.

    Federal Fishing Regulations for MTMNM

    Compliance Guide for Fishing in MTMNM

    NOAA’s DRAFT Marianas Trench Monument Management Plan and Environmental Assessment

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    Rose Atoll Marine National Monument

    The Rose Atoll MNM was established in 2009. It covers 8,625 square miles and includes the waters and submerged lands. Rose Atoll is named for the pink color of the fringing reef. This monument is cooperatively managed by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the Department of State, the Department of Defense and the American Samoa Government.

    The monument prohibits all commercial fishing and other extractive activities within its boundaries. However, subsistence fishing by local communities and recreational fishing are allowed in the monument and subject to certain restrictions and regulations. For example, recreational fishing is allowed for pelagic species such as tuna and billfish, but is prohibited for bottomfish and other reef-associated species.

    Council regulations require that all vessels entering the monument must have a valid permit and follow certain protocols aimed at minimizing their impact on the marine environment. These protocols include requirements for proper handling and release of nontarget species, restrictions on the use of certain fishing gear and limitations on the amount of fishing gear that can be used.

    Federal Fishing Regulations for Rose Atoll MNM

    Compliance Guide for Fishing in Rose Atoll MNM

    Removing Fishing Prohibitions in Marine National Monuments


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    Area-Based Management

    High Seas

    Areas beyond national jurisdiction – the high seas – are those marine areas outside of the 200 nm EEZ of each coastal nation. These waters cover about half of Earth’s surface and make up about two-thirds of the world’s ocean. There are several treaties and varying efforts to manage and protect some important high seas areas.

    The United Nations hosted its first Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) in 2018. The reason for convening the conference was the growing recognition that the high seas are facing significant threats from human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and climate change, which are affecting the health and functioning of marine ecosystems. At the time, there was no comprehensive legal framework governing the conservation and sustainable use of these areas, and there was a need for international cooperation to address these issues.

    BBNJ negotiations have finalize and will be ratified by the end of 2023, which includes a legal framework for the use of area-based management tools on the high seas. The Council is concerned about this since pelagic tuna fisheries rely on high seas fishing access to fulfill fleet demands given closures of U.S. waters around Hawaii and the PRIA.

    A summary of the fifth session held in March 2023 is available here.

    Southern Exclusion Zone

    The Southern Exclusion Zone is a management area created by the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Plan, which is implemented under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The area closes to deep-set longline fishing if the fishery reaches a certain level of observed false killer whale bycatch in a given year. It is located in the U.S. EEZ around Hawai’i bounded by 165° 00′ W longitude on the west, 154° 30′ W longitude on the east, the PMNM and the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) Longline Fishing Prohibited Area on the north, and the EEZ boundary on the south.

    Main Hawaiian Islands Longline Fishing Prohibited Area

    This longline exclusion zone prohibits longline fishing around the MHI (50 CFR 665.806(a)(2)). The exclusion zone was created in 1992 to prevent gear conflicts between longline fisheries and pelagic troll and handline fisheries (57 FR 7661, March 2, 1992).

    Current National Marine Sanctuaries in the Western Pacific

    American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area

    In 2002, the Council established the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) to minimize competition between the large-vessel fishing fleet and smaller traditional double-hulled catamaran boats called alias. In 2015, the Council recommended an exemption to the LVPA for U.S.-permitted longline vessels of 50 feet in length or greater, based in American Samoa, allowing the fleet to fish within about 12-17 nm from shore around Tutuila, Swains and Manua Islands. The American Samoa Government filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the federal government, arguing that the amendment to the LVPA for longline vessels violated the territory’s Deeds of Cession, which was initially ruled in their favor. In 2020, this decision was reversed by a three-judge panel and subsequently denied by the Supreme Court.

    The final decision effective July 6, 2021, reinstated the LVPA exemptions established in the 2016 final rule (86 FR 36239). In the last six months of 2021, trolling catch rates for skipjack tuna nearly doubled while effort from the American Samoa longline fishery within the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa increased by 25% from 2020. Only a single alia vessel has been operational and landings cannot be reported due to data confidentiality rules.

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    Council-Related Efforts on Area-Based Management

    Area-based management is one of many tools used by the regional fishery management councils to conserve and sustainably manage fisheries and limit potential adverse effects of fisheries to marine ecosystems. Discrete geographic areas with specific regulatory restrictions have been established to meet various conservation objectives including conserving ecosystems and associated biodiversity, minimizing impacts to sensitive or important habitat types, and conserving vulnerable keystone species. Management areas have also been established to address numerous other spatially driven management challenges, such as issues related to fishery allocations, fishery catch limits, protecting spawning fish from disturbance, or addressing bycatch concerns.

    The Council Coordination Committee (CCC) formed a subcommittee on area-based management in May 2021 to assist the councils in coordinating with NOAA to achieve the goals in the Executive Order 14008. President Biden’s goal is to conserve at least 30% of lands and waters by 2030. The CCC subcommittee is analyzing existing managed areas with respect to how they achieve the principles listed in the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report. The Biden Administration released a one-year report in December 2021.

    The CCC reviewed the final report at its May 2023 meeting. Federal agencies are creating an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, which will define areas fully or partially meeting criteria under the America the Beautiful Initiative.

    Scientific and Statistical Committee Working Group

    The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee developed a paper to inform managers and stakeholders on the utility of area-based management tools to address domestic priorities as well as international negotiations.

    The CCC and the Council have provided the following correspondence regarding the America the Beautiful 30×30 Initiative and the Atlas.

    International Workshop on Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries

    The Council hosted the International Workshop on Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries from June 15 to 17, 2020.  The workshop included 34 participants from across the globe. The panelists and participants included top area-based fishery management experts from intergovernmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, regional fisheries management organizations, and academia, many of whom bridge the gap between science and policy. The workshop was co-chaired by world-renowned scientists Dr. Ray Hilborn (University of Washington) and Dr. Vera Agostini (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization).

    Workshop Report and Related Publications

    Emerging from the Workshop were two noteworthy publications. Workshop participants were invited to serve as co-authors on a 2021 Publication in Fish and Fisheries:  “Area-based management of blue water fisheries: Current knowledge and research needs.” This paper was lead by a Council SSC member as first author and Council staff as senior author. This paper was shared with United Nations Committee of Fisheries at its 2022 meeting

    In 2022, SSC member Ray Hilborn and Council staff Mark Fitchett co-authored a paper with others called “Trade-offs between bycatch and target catches in static versus dynamic fishery closures” addressing issues noted in the 2020 workshop and their 2021 paper. This paper focused on dynamic vs static protected areas to reduce bycatch or incidental catch of threatened species in fisheries.

    The incidental catch of threatened species is still one of the main barriers to fisheries sustainability. What would happen if we closed 30% of the ocean to fishing with the goal of reducing bycatch? Analyzing 15 different fisheries around the globe, we found that under static area management, such as classic no-take marine area closures, observed bycatch could be reduced by 16%. However, under dynamic ocean management based on observed bycatch and closing the same total area but fragmented in smaller areas that can move year to year, that reduction can increase up to 57% at minimal or no loss of target catch.

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    Executive Orders

    EO 14008, January 20, 2021: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, aka “America the Beautiful” – This action by President Biden seeks to cement the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security and commits to the goal of conserving at least 30% of the nation’s lands and oceans by 2030.

    EO 13921, May 7, 2020: Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth – An initiative by President Biden aimed at boosting the seafood industry in the United States through various strategies and policies.


    EO 13792, April 26, 2017: Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act – Action by President Trump that directed the Secretary of the Interior to review and potentially modify or rescind national monument designations made under the Antiquities Act by previous administrations.

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