Press Release – Western Pacific Council Supports Protection of False Killer Whales, Leads US Fisheries Interests in Pacific (23 March 2022)

News and Updates, Press Releases, Protected Species

HONOLULU (23 March 2022) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council discussed today its position on the future direction for the False Killer Whale (FKW) Take Reduction Plan and agreed to not support adoption of weaker hooks under the Plan due to the potential economic impacts and lack of clear conservation benefit. 
 
Fishermen are required to use 4.5 mm or less diameter circle hooks intended to straighten and release accidentally hooked FKWs, while retaining bigeye tuna and other fish species of market value. However, this weak hook has not been successful, with only approximately 10% of the interactions resulting in the hook straightening since the Plan’s implementation in 2013. A 2021 study showed that the weight and value of bigeye tuna may be reduced if even weaker hooks are required in the fishery. 
 
“Weak hooks are not the best way to reduce the false killer whale interactions with the Hawai‘i fleet,” emphasized Roger Dang, Council vice chair for Hawai‘i. “Considering the prices of fuel and bait are up, any economic impacts from using weaker hooks would increase the difficulties in operating under these conditions. We need to focus our limited resources on what we believe will have the greatest impact.”
 
Council member McGrew Rice pointed out that a weak circle hook will not straighten if the hook is caught in the corner of the animal’s mouth. “The key is to cut the line close to the hook. A hook in a mouth will not kill a fish.”
 
The Council said the Plan’s priority should be to develop strategies to reduce trailing gear and find solutions to reduce depredation based on the latest FKW abundance estimates and other factors. The Council’s position was also based on input from its advisory groups. 
 
The Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery interacts with the pelagic population of FKWs, estimated to be approximately 25,000 in the central Pacific around Hawai‘i, with 2,100 individuals estimated to occur inside the three to 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the State.
 
Council members expressed frustration at the continued delay of the Endangered Species Act consultations for the Hawai‘i deep-set longline (DSLL), American Samoa longline (ASLL), and Hawai‘i and territory bottomfish fisheries. Completion dates have been shifting with every Council meeting report for the last two years. Michael Tosatto, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regional administrator for the Pacific Islands, reported that the current dates presented at the meeting (April to May 2022) are unlikely to be met. Apparently  reported that the current dates presented at the meeting (April to May 2022) are unlikely to be met. Apparently internal and external review steps are required. The Council asked NMFS to provide a timeline for Council’s draft review to assist with planning for advisory body meeting schedules.
 
Call for US Government to Work Better with Pacific Island Nations
The Council, with representatives from U.S. tuna industries, developed a paper that calls for a task force of federal agencies to work together to implement a new Pacific strategy. The paper’s holistic approach addresses greater U.S. trade and national security interests and how they are tied to the prosperity of U.S. tuna fisheries in the Pacific.
 
The Council endorsed the new Pacific strategy and recommended the U.S. delegations to the WCPFC coordinate with longline and purse seine fishing industries to implement it. Coordination efforts should lead toward an increase in the Hawai‘i longline fishery’s bigeye tuna quota and enhance opportunities for the American Samoa longline and purse seine fisheries. The U.S. government should ensure U.S. Pacific Island Territories take an active role in developing and implementing these objectives.
 
In American Samoa, Starkist cannery is the largest private employer. Will Sword, Council vice chair for American Samoa, noted the Council’s Pacific strategy is just what is needed. “It’s imperative to get the U.S. government and state and territory governments working closely with other Pacific Islands to implement a strategy that meets our goals,” said Sword.
 
“The current playing field is not level for American Samoa because our purse seine fleet is not seeing the benefits that we deserve as a territory” added Archie Soliai, Council chair from American Samoa. “The United States should take seriously the needs of its territories and this plan will help to move this forward.”
 
The Council recommended a letter be sent to the State Department and NOAA expressing concerns regarding the lack of acknowledgement of American Samoa’s rights afforded to small island developing States (SIDS) in the WCPFC. Under Articles 30 and 43 of the WCPFC Convention, SIDS and Territories receive certain benefits recognizing their aspirations and sovereign rights to manage their own fisheries. They are entitled to special provisions to prevent “disproportionate burdens” from conservation action.
 
The Council also recommended a letter be sent to the Biden Administration in response to its request for comment on development of its Indo-Pacific Strategy. The letter should reinforce the importance of fisheries to the Pacific Islands and the uniqueness of the Pacific Islands to the Indo-Pacific.
 
 
The Council meeting concludes tomorrow with discussions on American Samoa bottomfish and aquaculture management, and equity and environmental justice efforts, among other topics. Instructions on connecting to Webex, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars
 
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); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); 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): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Charles Brinkman and Rebecca Wintering, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and RADM Matthew Sibley, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District. 

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