National Marine Sanctuary Proposal

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Proposed Sanctuary Fishery Regulations FAQs
January 2022

Why is a Sanctuary being proposed now?
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has long desired a National Marine Sanctuary for the NWHI ( In 2006, a monument was designated. Given the recent example of Presidents altering existing monuments through the Antiquities Act, there is a desire to create more permanence in the region.

Which boundary options are ONMS considering?
It’s unclear at this time. The Council understands that the sanctuary designation process, which includes an Environmental Impact Statement analysis to satisfy the National Environmental Protection Act and formal public scoping, will examine boundary options.

What role does the Council play?
As part of the sanctuary designation process, ONMS works with the Council to assess and determine the need for fishery regulations to meet the goals and objectives of the sanctuary. ONMS has given the Council until March 31, 2022, to respond. The Council can either recommend fishing regulations, recommend that fishing regulations are not necessary, or decline to act. The Secretary of Commerce may develop fishing regulations in the event that 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.

What does that mean for fishing in the NWHI?
Currently there are federal and state laws and regulations in place that prohibit commercial and recreational fishing from the beach to 200 miles offshore. As part of this process, Council staff is working with NOAA to better assess the existing regulatory frameworks regarding fishing. These existing legal frameworks include the State NWHI Marine Refuge; the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve; and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Expansion (PMNM). This comprehensive understanding will serve as a starting point for any fishery proposal discussions.

Does the Council see this as a way to reopen the NWHI to commercial fishing?
The sanctuary process cannot allow fishing activities in overlapping areas of the monuments that are prohibited under the presidential proclamations. Commercial fishing is prohibited in the NWHI. The Council will continue to look for ways to support non-commercial and subsistence fishing, remaining consistent with the proclamations.

Can fish come home to the Main Hawaiian Islands?
The Council is evaluating options for permitting the limited, non-commercial use of fish harvested within certain areas of the monuments, which may include the transport, consumption and sharing of fish outside the monument. Customary exchange is included in the regulations for other Pacific Monuments consistent with their proclamations, though implementation has not yet occurred.

Who is the sole management agency?
Under the proclamations, the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce administer the marine monuments. 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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the State of Hawai’i, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), is initiating the process to consider designating marine portions of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary.

NOAA specifically request comments by January 31, 2022 on the following topics, including the identification of potential alternatives, information, and analyses relevant to the proposed action:

  • The proposed designation of marine waters of the Monument as a national marine sanctuary, including the spatial extent of the proposed sanctuary and boundary alternatives NOAA should consider;
  • the location, nature, and value of resources that would be protected by a sanctuary;
  • management measures for the sanctuary and any additional regulations that should be added under the NMSA authority to protect Monument resources;
  • the potential socioeconomic, cultural, and biological impacts of sanctuary designation;
  • information regarding historic properties in the entire Monument area and the potential effects to those historic properties to support National Historic Preservation Act compliance under section 106; and
  • other information relevant to the designation and management of a national marine sanctuary.

NOAA requested the Council review of fishery regulations for the proposed sanctuary designation, due March 31, 2022.

For additional information, please visit the proposed sanctuary’s website at: NOAA welcomes your input on this proposed designation. Instructions on how advisory councils can provide a public comment are included below. Individuals (not acting on behalf of an advisory council) and other groups can submit a comment by following the instructions included here.