Press Release: Science Advisors Weigh In on Cost Recovery in NWHI Fishing Trips (14 March 2023)

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HONOLULU (14 March 2023) The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) today reviewed cost recovery options for permitted fishing in the Monument Expansion Area (MEA) of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) developed a fishing trip cost estimate based on data from 2003 adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars. The calculations included fuel, ice, bait, provisions and supplies. Council staff reported on data gathered from fishermen that previously fished in the MEA and estimated how much a trip would cost today. Costs varied according to vessel size, weather, trip length and other considerations. Staff noted that some costs such as fuel exceed the inflation rate and could be considerably higher. The Council preliminarily said at its December 2022 meeting that the cost recovery limit should not exceed $15,000 per trip.

Discussion centered on the importance of data collection, including economic statistics. SSC member Craig Severance said, “Cost recovery is a matter of equity and environmental justice and without some form of cost recovery, it will be impractical for people to go there.” EEJ is a priority of the Biden Administration and several Executive Orders have addressed injustices for native communities in the Western Pacific Region.

The SSC said the fishing cost estimates should also consider crew costs, among other factors. SSC member Steve Martell pointed out that other cost recovery programs such as for North Pacific halibut include funds for labor. The SSC believed it is difficult to set an upper cost recovery limit without additional information, noting that fishing activity costs will vary in the future.

SSC members emphasized that fishing efforts in the MEA would provide valuable fishery information. The more fishing data collected, the better because there is no scientific advantage in restraining costs.

The MEA was established in 2016 by Presidential Proclamation 9478 and is managed by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Proclamation allows for regulated fishing activities, including Native Hawaiian practices and noncommercial fishing, but prohibits commercial fishing activities and anchoring on any living or dead coral.

The SSC also recommended extending a moratorium on the gold coral fishery in the Western Pacific Region for an additional five years until 2028. The moratorium was issued in 2008 due to uncertainty in the coral’s growth rate. New research discovered that gold coral grows much slower than previously estimated. PIFSC expects to prioritize deep sea coral research in the Pacific Islands in 2025, and SSC members thought this could help improve the gold coral growth rate estimate. There are no current federal permit holders, but commercial fishery interest exists.

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); Michael Seki (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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