Press Release – Council Rebukes Proposal to Expand Marine National Monument in Pacific (22 September 2022)
HONOLULU (22 September 2022) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Keone Nakoa, provided the opening remarks at the Council meeting this week, noting he is a native son of Hawai‘i. Nakoa is the lead Department of the Interior (DOI) official directly responsible for managing the administration of the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the freely associated states. The DOI coordinates with other federal agencies to implement regional and national level coastal policy and actions, and works closely with the governments of the U.S. Pacific Territories.
Sam Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reported on priority areas for Headquarters including climate change, the National Seafood Strategy and conservation. “We’ve been successful because of the Fishery Management Councils,” said Rauch. “90% of stocks are not subject to overfishing and 80% not overfished.” Rauch also noted two large appropriation bills, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act, which have $1 billion for habitat and coastal restorations and $2.6 billion for coastal resiliency work, respectively. Much of this funding will go to competitive grants for states and territories.
Council members questioned the progress of the Biden Administration’s America the Beautiful 30×30 initiative regarding the definition of conservation, pointing out the many area-based measures currently in place. Rauch said at the end of the year, the federal government is to provide an atlas of conservation areas and a working definition for conservation.
The eight regional fishery management councils (FMCs) developed a definition of conservation and are awaiting the federal government definition. The FMCs provided a report at the May Council Coordination Committee (CCC) meeting to inform the atlas. The Council requested draft information be provided at the next CCC meeting in October.
Marine National Monument Proposed Expansion
The Council’s advisory groups reported key discussion points on the proposed expansion to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from their meetings held prior to the Council meeting. The Scientific and Statistical Committee found the proposal “conceptually challenged and factually shallow” because it lacked data or an analytical framework to evaluate or support the stated benefits. The Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, who developed the proposal, “lacked engagement with the territories, specifically American Samoa.”
Michael Goto, chair of the Council’s Fishing Industry Advisory Committee, said U.S. fisheries are in jeopardy of “death by a thousand cuts” with actions like the proposed monument expansion that further undermines well-managed U.S. fisheries that “will only benefit China.”
The Council will inform the White House and relevant federal agencies about the lack of scientific justification for the previous and proposed expansion of marine national monuments in the Pacific that prohibit U.S. tuna fisheries. The Council will also reiterate its June 2022 recommendation to request a comprehensive evaluation of the unintended consequences, including social and economic impacts, be conducted and evaluated through a transparent and public process if further closures are considered.
Further, the Council will contact the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition to request the group directly addresses and consults with fishing communities and local fishery management agencies in the U.S. Pacific Territories. The Council also asked NMFS to assist the territories on a scientific evaluation of the proposal, including unintended consequences to American Samoa fisheries.
Council members were offended that Hawai‘i leaders lent support to the proposed monument expansion without considering the potential impacts on the territories, which are comprised of mostly underserved communities.
Council member Judith Guthertz from Guam said, “This is an emotional issue for people in the territories. We don’t really have a voice in Congress. We don’t elect the president and we have to depend on Hawai‘i’s support. Just because we live in the territories, doesn’t mean it should rob us of the opportunity to be treated as Americans.”
“The expansion will only benefit a few, and will severely impact the American Samoa economy that is 90% dependent on the tuna industry,” said Council Chair Archie Soliai, Council chair and director of American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. “I am disappointed at the lack of aloha coming from Hawai‘i. We were not asked for our opinion prior to the announcement; it is not the Samoan way to disregard others.” Soliai asked the DOI and NMFS to weigh in on the impact that the proposed expansion would have on American Samoa, pointing out that if the tuna industry collapses, the territory will be 100% dependent on the federal government.
Hawai‘i and American Samoa Longline Fishery Reports
The Council discussed a Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center report on the performance of the 140 Hawai‘i longline vessels during the first half of 2022. Compared to 2021, the fishery had a relatively low bigeye tuna catch (89K fish, down 14K) and catch per unit effort. Even though the catch was low, the fish price was high, so fishermen were able to recoup their operating costs. Yellowfin tuna catches have trended upward since 2015, increasing 5K fishes from 2021 to 42K, and swordfish catch is up about 1K to 9K fishes.
The nine vessels of the American Samoa longline fleet had an increased albacore tuna catch rate from January to June 2022 compared to the same period last year–13.26 versus about 9 fish per 1,000 hooks. Approximately 12 fish caught per 1,000 hooks is considered a “break-even” point for fishermen in terms of the costs and benefits of each fishing trip. American Samoa longline fishery catch rates have declined by at least 50% since 2002, so such a significant increase in fishery performance is encouraging.
Aquaculture in the Western Pacific
The Council recommended establishing an expanded aquaculture management program in the Western Pacific Region. A program is needed to provide the Council and NMFS with a framework to review and authorize where, how and how much aquaculture is developed in federal waters of the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The Council will finalize an amendment to the Hawai‘i and Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plans for transmission to NMFS.
New Council members Will Sword (American Samoa), Judith Guthertz (Guam) and Shaelene Kamaka‘ala (Hawai‘i) were sworn in at the Council meeting on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Commerce appoints members chosen from a list of people recommended by regional governors. Members serve a three-year term, starting Aug. 11, 2022, and can be reappointed to serve three consecutive terms.