Press Release: Issues of Fairness, Equity and Respect Dominate Fishery Management Council Meeting (4 April 2023)
HONOLULU (4 April 2023) Last week, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s completed its 194th meeting in the Mariana Islands. In Guam, the meeting began with a cultural blessing ceremony led by Para I Prubechu’n I Taotao’ta. The members called on ancestral spirits to guide the meeting participants as they discussed international and national issues affecting local communities, saying the ocean is our wealth and connects everyone.
The Honorable Governor of Guam Lou Leon Guerrero opened the meeting expressing concern for increasing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region.
“[IUU] vessels pose a threat not just to our national security, but also to our local fishing industries and up-and-coming industries,” said Leon Guerrero. “Left unchecked, this kind of fishing and associated labor abuses undermine our economic competitiveness, national security, fisheries sustainability, and the livelihoods and human rights of fishers around the world, and will exacerbate the environmental and socioeconomic effects of climate change.”
The Governor spoke to President Biden’s recent announcement about designating a national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA), noting it threatens Pacific Islanders’ way of life.
“I echo [CNMI] Governor Palacios that this is a matter that demands our respect and fluid communication. I don’t believe that any of us are against the intentions, but there are impacts hanging on those intentions. Impacts that fail to consider our food security or our fishing traditions. Pacific Islanders eat two to four times more fish than people in other nations, with most of the fish we eat from our own waters and reefs. We also contribute more than 30% of the global market for tuna.”
The proposal would have many unintended socioeconomic consequences and conflicts with the President’s Executive Orders promoting equity and environmental justice (EEJ). Fisheries is the leading economic driver for underserved communities in the Pacific. A new sanctuary in the PRIA to help meet the Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” 30×30 conservation goal puts a disproportionate burden on U.S. Pacific Islanders, as 53% of U.S. waters in the western Pacific are already closed to fishing through Marine National Monuments.
“When we started hearing about recognition of EEJ issues in our government, I thought it would provide our region with acknowledgement, but in reality it’s only a paper commitment,” said Council member and University of Guam Professor Judith Guthertz. “Our territories have a long history of unfulfilled commitments. We need to feel our efforts are respected and show that our input counts.”
Diminished U.S. fisheries would severely decrease U.S. influence in the Pacific. In September 2022, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee found the proposal to expand the current Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument boundaries lacked supporting data and would provide limited conservation benefits. A 2018 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) report also said permanent settlements in the PRIA were unlikely due to the vulnerability of the low-lying areas to storms, lack of freshwater sources and inability to grow crops on the islands.
The Council will request the National Ocean Service (NOS) meet with the Governors of Guam, the CNMI and American Samoa to describe the sanctuary designation process.
Territorial Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits
The framework that establishes bigeye tuna longline catch and allocation limits for the territories requires an annually specified catch limit to transfer catch from any territory to U.S. longline vessels based out of Hawai‘i. The Council approved setting an allocation limit of bigeye tuna from each territory to U.S. longline vessels, without setting a catch limit. This allocation limit would be up to 1,500 metric tons per territory, in effect from 2024 to 2026.
Council members emphasized the importance of fishing agreements between the territories and the Hawai‘i-based fleet. These have often been the sole source of funds for fishery development in the Marine Conservation Plans of the territories. MCPs are developed locally to meet the needs of each territory and approved by the respective Governor and subsequently approved by the Secretary of Commerce.
Council member Manny Dueñas of the Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association expressed frustration over the low U.S. catch limit and that territories have to rely on these agreements to fund fishery development. “We are Pacific Islanders, just like the people the U.S. government spend hundreds of millions on through the Tuna Treaty, Economic Assistance Agreement, and the Compact of Free Association,” said Dueñas. “Why can’t we get just a fraction of that to support our fisheries?”
Council member Archie Soliai of American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources noted the disadvantages that U.S. Pacific fisheries and the territories encounter. “Equity! Don’t talk to me about equity. We got no equity. Why are we putting limits on our fisheries when other Pacific Island countries with the same status do not have any limits? This is an unlevel playing field for U.S. fishery stakeholders.”
Fishing Regulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
The Council heard from NOS that its December 2022 action allowing for cost recovery including “sale” in a federal fishing permit in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is unlikely to meet the goals and objectives of a proposed national marine sanctuary in the area. Many Council members remarked that sale would allow cultural perpetuation. Council member Dueñas said, “We are being asked to sacrifice our culture for the rest of the world [with the Marine National Monuments] and perpetuating culture is worth more.”
The Council said disallowing sales would continue to disenfranchise the Native Hawaiian community. Council member and American Samoa noncommercial fisherman Will Sword commented, “Cost should not be a factor when trying to feed your own people.” Council member and Hawai‘i charter boat captain McGrew Rice added, “Unless one has the funds and can afford it, it’s the only way anyone can go up there.”
The Council recommended fishermen who obtain a Native Hawaiian Subsistence Fishing Practices Permit be allowed to request cost recovery through the sale of catch associated with their fishing trip to the Monument Expansion Area (MEA). Council members believed that limited cost recovery may be conducted on a small scale within the community, consistent with MEA’s prohibition on commercial fishing. The recommendation allows NMFS’s Regional Administrator to review a permit application that includes a statement of why cost recovery is necessary along with estimated costs. The Regional Administrator can then make a decision after consultation with the Council and monument management partners (NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the State of Hawai‘i). The application would also be available for public review for no less than 30 days.
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. : 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.