Press Release – US Pacific Federal Fishery Managers Recommend Tori Lines, New American Samoa Bottomfish Stock Assessment Approach (08 December 2021)

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HONOLULU (08 December 2021) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council recommended today to replace blue-dyed fish bait and strategic offal discharge with tori lines in the Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery’s suite of seabird conservation measures. This amendment will improve the overall operational practicality and efficacy of required mitigation regulations. At their meeting last week, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) supported the regulatory changes, noting that they are informed by the best scientific information available.

The change was based on a fishing-industry-led collaborative project with Hawai‘i longline vessels to conduct field experiments over the past three years to compare seabird interaction rates with baited hooks. “The Hawaii Longline Association fully supports this change to tori lines,” said HLA Executive Director Eric Kingma. Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds added, “This action is an example representing the Council’s long history of proactive and adaptive conservation measures to address fishery impacts to protected species.”

The Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery, which targets bigeye tuna, has been using a suite of seabird mitigation measures since 2001 under the Council’s Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan. This effort was accomplished through the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s bottom-up approach for making or changing fishery regulations that starts with an issue presented from Council advisory groups and the public.

The Council also endorsed the SSC’s recommendation to use a single-species, age-structured management approach for the next American Samoa bottomfish stock assessment scheduled for 2023. The American Samoa bottomfish fishery is managed in an 11-species complex, which is overfished and experiencing overfishing, according to a 2019 Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) assessment. Data are available to support age-structured assessments.

An SSC working group and PIFSC, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) and Council staffs held two data evaluation workshops to improve information used in the stock assessment. “This data discussion and evaluation is a step in the right direction,” said DMWR Director and Council Chair Archie Soliai. “Consultation between PIFSC and DMWR is absolutely necessary to ensure that the next stock assessment is accurate.”

On another issue, Council members raised concerns with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) “negative determination” that the proposed critical habitat designation for Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed coral species is not expected to affect the territories’ Coastal Zone Management Programs. Territory governments have been receiving conflicting information from NMFS on whether the “negative determination” is automatic for critical habitat designations. The Council requested that NMFS follow up with the Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) governments to provide specific reasons for not accepting the territorial objection of the NMFS negative determination on the Coastal Zone Management Act federal consistency provisions.

Council members from the CNMI, Guam and American Samoa continued to press NMFS regarding the pending critical habitat designation. In November 2020, NMFS proposed the designation of critical habitat in nearshore territorial waters. Critical habitat is habitat containing physical features essential to supporting recovery of ESA-listed species.

Territory resource agencies and governors have since voiced their dismay that such designations may impact the territory governments’ ability to manage coastal areas, which are often funded by or authorized by the federal government. Critical habitat designations add a layer of federal agency consultation to the federal project approval process.

Tomorrow the Council will discuss outcomes of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual meeting on tropical tuna management measures and proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary updates, among other topics. Instructions on connecting to Webex, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars

The Council manages federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai‘i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the CNMI and the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Areas.

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