Press Release – Fishery Management Council Asks for Remedies to Long-Standing Issues in Western Pacific Region (24 March 2022)
HONOLULU (24 March 2022) At the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council meeting today, Chair Archie Soliai reiterated concerns about NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) delays in completing Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations for the region’s longline and bottomfish fisheries.
“Our experience with ESA consultations over the last several years have left us with the impression that our Council process is not respected,” emphasized Soliai. “The Council is here to ensure the sustainability of our region’s fishery resources as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.” Soliai added, “We ask PIRO to provide us with realistic timelines and meaningful dialogue, so we may work together to complete these biological opinions and ensure that our fisheries can continue to operate in compliance with ESA.”
The Council will convey its concerns to Janet Coit, assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), requesting assistance so biological opinions are completed in coordination with the Council.
The Council believes the existing Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) management plan should be implemented ahead of any national marine sanctuary nomination in the Marianas, as it may provide protections the nomination seeks. The MTMNM boundaries, including the omission of the water column, already reflects the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana (CNMI) government’s management needs.
Council comments in February to NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) on the 5-year nomination review, explained the MTMNM greatly reduced the need for sanctuary protection. Concerns in the proposed sanctuary, such as fishing regulations, are already addressed through the MTMNM management plan and Magnuson-Stevens Act. Foreign fishing is prohibited.
“ONMS needs to be clear about what is proposed,” said Michael Tenorio, CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife fisheries supervisor. “The nomination seems to allude to closing fishing to the community and it’s causing confusion.”
The Council asked NOAA to remove the proposed sanctuary from the national inventory and assist Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument with developing a revised proposal vetted through the CNMI and Guam communities. This would create a stronger proposal with broad community support, one of the 11 evaluation criteria for inclusion on the inventory list. The CNMI Governor Ralph DLG Torres and other community members have expressed strong opposition to the proposed marine sanctuary plan.
The public comment period has been extended to April 25, and comments can be submitted at https://www.regulations.gov/document/NOAA-NOS-2022-0005-0034.
Equity and environmental justice (EEJ) is a priority for the Council, and influences all programs, approaches and actions. The Council raised EEJ-related issues and opportunities throughout the meeting this week.
“I think this is very important and am glad it’s finally coming to fruition after 30 years,” said Monique Amani, Council member from Guam, referencing when the EJ social movement began. “I fully support this initiative – we’re part of the United States, but the services and investments to our communities aren’t always the same for the territories,” she added.
The Council approved a draft Western Pacific EEJ approach and will develop a regional strategy to direct future work. Together with the Council’s new Pacific strategy to advocate for equitable fisheries in the region, our fishing communities will be better positioned to benefit across global, regional and national landscapes.
The Council recommended NMFS clarify a 2015 notice of proposed rule-making that would acknowledge an American Samoa purse seine fleet, distinct from a U.S. fleet. A proposed rule is expected in April 2022.
American Samoa does not have direct access to the high seas and most purse seine fishing effort occurs within waters of small island states and tropical waters north of the territory. However, American Samoa is home to a tuna cannery that is the territory’s most important private employer.
In 2015, Tri Marine purse seine vessels petitioned the United States to remove high seas fishing limits for vessels that offload at least 50% of their catch in American Samoa, citing Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) fishing restrictions that impede their ability to support the territory’s economy. NMFS denied the petition in October 2015, but stated it could reconsider taking action if there was evidence that WCPFC restrictions have a negative impact on the territory’s economy.
“Seven years have passed and American Samoa’s dire situation is self-evident with the exodus of U.S. vessels and the need to supply our cannery,” said Council Chair Archie Soliai. PIRO Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto was unable to provide specifics on proposed regulations.
The Council appointed the following officers for 2022: Archie Soliai, chair; Will Sword, American Samoa vice chair; John Gourley, CNMI vice chair; Manny Duenas, Guam vice chair; and Roger Dang, Hawai‘i vice chair.
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council:Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (vice chair); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i); and McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Anthony Benavente, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai‘i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; and Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources (chair). Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Charles Brinkman and Rebecca Wintering, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and RADM Matthew Sibley, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.