Press Release: Scientists Concerned with Lack of Data to Support Marine Monument Expansion (14 September 2022)

News and Updates, Press Releases

HONOLULU (14 September 2022) The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee heard a presentation by Bob Richmond, University of Hawai‘i professor and coauthor on the proposal to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, on the scientific merits of the proposed expansion. The SSC members noted in their discussion the overwhelming lack of data to support theorized benefits and an analytical framework to assemble data in the proposal evaluation.

“The SSC promotes developing marine protected areas based on scientific evidence,” said SSC member David Itano. “It is important to understand the biology and fish stock dynamics, as well as how they interact with fisheries. If we are going to preserve U.S. fisheries that are accepted as the world’s best-managed, we have to stop taking away their garden.” Another SSC member said tropical tuna stocks that inhabit proposed expansion waters are not considered overfished nor experiencing overfishing based on internationally accepted best available science and that U.S. fisheries constitute a small portion of total fishing pressure.

SSC members raised several concerns including that data streams from human activities (such as fishing) that would be used for monitoring ecosystem health would cease to exist with the formation of more closed areas.

The SSC asserted that indigenous cultural and environmental justice issues were not taken into account. “Our actions are part of the ecosystem, therefore we are the stewards,” said SSC member Jason Biggs from Guam, noting natives never remove themselves completely from an area they manage. Domingo Ochavillo from American Samoa pointed out the disproportionate impact the monument expansion would have on the territory’s economy, which is dependent on fish delivered to the StarKist cannery. Purse seine vessels that fish in the potentially closed areas would then fish in the area of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and offload in Ecuador.

The SSC also discussed alternatives for fishing regulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, forming a working group to discuss the definition of “subsistence fishing.” The group developed several variations with or without customary exchange and cost recovery and will provide options for the Council’s consideration at its meeting next week.

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 (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, 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); 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: 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): 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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