Press Release – ESA-listed Species Not at Risk of Extinction From Hawai‘i and American Samoa Longline Fishery Interactions (17 March 2023)

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HONOLULU (17 March 2023) The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) discussed the draft National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biological opinions (BiOps) released last week for the Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fisheries. The draft BiOps concluded the two fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Endangered Species Act-listed species that may be accidentally hooked or entangled during fishing operations. The SSC found the no-jeopardy conclusion is well supported by the scientific information used in the analysis.

In the four years leading up to these draft BiOps, the SSC reviewed statistical models evaluating population-level effects of the Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fisheries on loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. The SSC this week heard an update on the assessment that evaluated the effect of the Hawai‘i deep-set fishery on the leatherback turtle population. The committee determined that the updated analysis represents the best scientific information available. The models show the two fisheries have no discernable impact on the population projections when comparing scenarios with and without fishery impacts.

The SSC adopted the findings of a working group formed to provide a detailed review of the draft BiOps. The Council will consider the outcomes at its meeting to be held during the week of March 27 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Guam.

“I would like to commend the working group on its efforts to review these 300- to 400-page documents in an extremely short period of time,” said SSC member Craig Severance. 

Both draft BiOps include two Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) to minimize fishery impacts to the species. One RPM requires releasing ESA-listed species in a way that minimizes injury and increases post-release survivorship. Many of the animals are already released alive due to adherence to handling guidelines presented at required annual protected species workshops for commercial fishermen. 

The second RPM is to ensure the fisheries have monitoring and reporting programs in place to collect data on the interactions. The deep-set longline vessels are required to carry federal observers on 20% of their fishing trips to monitor interactions with non-target species and assess the effectiveness of measures designed to reduce bycatch. This is high compared to international standards of 5% coverage for longline vessels.

The SSC concluded these RPMs are adequately supported by the best available scientific and commercial data, and encouraged NMFS to support quicker reporting of fishery interaction data to facilitate the timely reporting requirements. One of the Terms and Conditions for the RPMs would require increased monitoring for an area where the Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery overlaps with the main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale population. The SSC recommended NMFS first conduct an evaluation of fishery interaction risk with the latest data to determine whether increased monitoring would be warranted.

Scientific and Statistical Committee: James Lynch (chair); Jason Biggs (Guam Division of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources); Debra Cabrera (University of Guam); Frank Camacho (University of Guam); Milani Chaloupka (University of Queensland); Erik Franklin (University of Hawai‘i, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology); Shelton Harley (Fisheries New Zealand); Jason Helyer (Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources); Ray Hilborn (University of Washington); Justin Hospital (NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)); Dave Itano (Fisheries Consultant); Donald Kobayashi (NMFS PIFSC); Steve Martell (Sea State Inc.); Domingo Ochavillo (American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources); Graham Pilling (Secretariat of the Pacific Community); Craig Severance (University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, retired); Francisco Villagomez (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Division of Fish & Wildlife); Tia Brown (acting) (ex-officio) (NMFS PIFSC).

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, the CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (chair); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (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: Dawn Chang, Hawai‘i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Sylvan Igisomar, CNMI Dept. of Lands & Natural Resources (vice chair); Chelsa Muña, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; and Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. 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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