Press Release – Existing Fishing Regulations Sufficient to Meet Proposed PRI Sanctuary Goals, Science Advisors Say (13 September 2023)

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HONOLULU (13 September 2023) The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) at its meeting today discussed potential fishing regulations for the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) National Marine Sanctuary designation. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) updated members on the process and timeline, noting the current scoping phase encompassed a public comment period that garnered approximately 57,000 comments. The topics ranged from support to opposition of the proposed sanctuary with suggestions for regulations, boundaries, opportunities and improvements.

Brady Phillips, ONMS, said the Council’s input would be helpful to draft alternatives to balance the President’s directive to “provide lasting and comprehensive protection” with existing fishing rules and regulations. Phillips noted ONMS is considering all information received to develop a full range of alternatives for the proposed sanctuary.

“I think we need to be honest about what additional regulations would protect,” said University of Washington professor Ray Hilborn. “Nearshore coral reefs are already covered – the real threats aren’t coming from fishing, they are coming from climate change.”

Acting SSC Chair Erik Franklin noted that on the mainland United States, sanctuaries are viewed as multi-use zones, including fishing, and questioned the difference in the Pacific Islands Region.

“Fishing is the lifeblood of our heritage in the Pacific Islands – it feels like government overreach to try to meet the global need to close ocean areas to achieve certain targets without thinking of the potential impacts,” said Franklin. “If we really want to meet ONMS’ goal of conserving cultural heritage, we need to include fishing as a critical component.”

The SSC reviewed existing fishing rules and regulations in the Council PRI Fishery Ecosystem Plan to evaluate if additional regulations were necessary to meet the proposed sanctuary’s goals and objectives. Members agreed that the regulations in place are sufficient and essentially best practices for fisheries in the Pacific.

Historically, the combined Hawai‘i- and American Samoa-based longline commercial catches ranged from 149 to 1,404 metric tons per year in the U.S. EEZ of the PRI, and the U.S. purse seine fleet catches ranged from 642 to 37,480 mt per year. From 2015 to present, following the PRI Marine National Monument establishment and subsequent expansion, the two longline fleets caught a combined total of 125 mt, and the purse seine fleet’s landings have ranged from 1,524 to 5,889 mt annually.

The Hawai‘i deep-set longline fleet delivers to the Port of Honolulu, but 85% of the purse seine fleet’s catch in the PRI is landed in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Up to 80% of the fish supplied to the StarKist cannery is from U.S. fleets.

Tuna landings for the two commercial fleets for the past decade have had a negligible impact on the bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean at 3.6%, 0.8% and 0.2% of maximum sustainable yield, respectively. The fisheries have no impact on benthic habitats or seamounts due to the deep waters, and low interactions with protected species like sea turtles and oceanic whitetip sharks.

The Council will provide a response to ONMS regarding the need for draft fishing regulations by Dec. 20, 2023. After the scoping phase concludes, ONMS will develop proposed sanctuary designation documents, including a draft Environmental Impact Statement and management plan, around the end of 2023 and into 2024.


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 (National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center); Dave Itano (Fisheries Consultant); Donald Kobayashi (NMFS PIFSC); Steve Martell (Sea State Inc.); Domingo Ochavillo (American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources); Graham Pilling (The Pacific Community); Craig Severance (University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, retired); Francisco Villagomez (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Fish & Wildlife); Charles Littnan (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: Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (chair); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Judith Guthertz, University of Guam (Guam); Pete Itibus, noncommercial fisher (CNMI); Shaelene Kamaka‘ala, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (Hawai‘i); and Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i). 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 (vice chair). Designated federal officials (voting): Sarah Malloy (acting), NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman, U.S. State Dept.; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Michael Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.

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