Press Release – PRI Sanctuary, HI Uku EFH and Bigeye Tuna Management on Agenda for Scientists at Next Meeting (22 November 2023)

News and Updates, Press Releases

HONOLULU (22 November 2023) Scientific advisors to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet Nov. 28-29, 2023, to provide advice and comments on the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) sanctuary, uku essential fish habitat (EFH) revision for the Hawaii Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP), U.S. territorial bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits, and other topics.

The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting will be held remotely via web conference. The full agenda, background documents and instructions for connecting to the meeting and providing oral public comments are available at www.wpcouncil.org/event/150th-scientific-and-statistical-committee.

National Marine Sanctuary in PRI
The SSC will be reviewing the available scientific information and discussing whether the existing fishing regulations in the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) are sufficient for a proposed national marine sanctuary. The SSC may provide recommendations to the Council regarding: 1) whether existing regulations provide comprehensive and long-lasting protection for the PRI, and 2) whether there is science to show conservation benefits that justify further fishing prohibitions. The proposed sanctuary overlays the current PRI Marine National Monument and would create duplicative management regimes, which is a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned income.

In September 2023, the Council preliminarily found that the existing fishing regulations under the current structure may already meet the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary, in alignment with the SSC’s recommendation. The Council will consider additional information at its December meeting before taking final action on the fishing regulations. The final decision is due to NOAA by Dec. 20, 2023.

In March 2023, President Biden directed the Secretary of Commerce to consider making the PRI Marine National Monument and additional areas within the U.S. exclusive economic zone into a national marine sanctuary. On June 23, the Council received the official sanctuary proposal, which requested the Council’s assistance in formulating fishing regulations.

The Council has been putting fishing regulations into place for the PRI FEP since 1986, such as requirements for permits and reporting on protected species interactions and bycatch, gear restrictions and vessel limits. ​There are additional fishing regulations for the Monument that prohibit commercial fishing within 0-50 nautical miles around Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands and Palmyra Atoll, and 0-200 nm around Johnston Atoll, Wake Island and Kingman Reef.

Hawai‘i Uku EFH Revision
The Council is taking final action to refine EFH designations for main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) uku (grey snapper) in its Hawai‘i Archipelago FEP. The SSC may provide recommendations to the Council on the appropriate use of new data in revising existing EFH.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines EFH as waters and substrate necessary for fish spawning, breeding, feeding and growth to maturity. EFH for uku was initially designated in 2009 and revised in 2016. Two new models reviewed in 2022 redefined uku EFH around Hawai‘i, and were recognized as the best scientific information available by the Western Pacific Stock Assessment Review process and the SSC.

At its June meeting, the SSC recommended using Level 1 model data (presence/absence) for refining uku EFH in the Hawai‘i FEP and discussed data inputs, especially for regions with high commercial uku catch like Penguin Bank. The SSC’s input will guide the Council in determining EFH for uku in Hawai‘i, with the goal of ensuring compliance with regulatory guidelines, supporting economic and social benefits, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the MHI uku stock and habitat. The refined models will be considered by the Council at its December meeting, following recommendations from the SSC.

Bigeye Tuna Management in the Pacific
At its December 2023 meeting, the Council will consider taking final action on the specification of bigeye tuna limits for U.S. territories and catch allocation limits under the Pacific Pelagic FEP through a multi-year framework until 2026. The SSC will review stock projections under future levels of catch. A 2023 stock assessment indicates that the bigeye tuna stock in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is not subject to overfishing and catch amounts could be significantly increased without posing a risk of overfishing. The SSC may provide advice to the Council regarding the catch and allocation limits based on the new information.

The SSC members will also discuss and may provide input to the Council on several presentations on its Inflation Reduction Act proposal and research priorities for the next few years.

Recommendations made by the SSC will be considered by the Council when it meets virtually Dec. 11-12, 2023, with host sites at 1164 Bishop St., Ste. 1400, Honolulu, HI; Cliff Pointe, Tedi of Samoa Bldg. Ste. 208B, Fagatogo Village, American Samoa; 304 W. O’Brien Dr., Hagatna, Guam; BRI Bldg. Ste. 205, Kopa Di Oru St., Garapan, Saipan, CNMI. Instructions on connecting to the web conference, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/event/197th-council-meeting.

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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