Press Release – Western Pacific Scientists to Advise Fishery Management Council on American Samoa Bottomfish, Pacific Remote Islands Sanctuary (8 September 2023)
HONOLULU (8 September 2023) Scientific advisors to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet Sept. 12-14, 2023, to provide advice and comments on American Samoa bottomfish stocks, the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) sanctuary, U.S. territorial bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits, and other topics.
The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting is open to in-person or remote participation via web conference for attendees. The full agenda, background documents and instructions for connecting to the meeting and providing oral public comments are available at www.wpcouncil.org/event/149th-scientific-and-statistical-committee.
American Samoa Bottomfish Catch Limits for 2024-2026
The SSC will review new scientific information for nine American Samoa bottomfish management unit species to recommend an acceptable biological catch (ABC) for fishing years 2024-2026. The specifications would be based on the February 2023 benchmark stock assessment with catch projections to 2028, which is considered the best scientific information available. The SSC will also consider an August 2023 analysis of the risk of overfishing and scientific uncertainties in the 2023 assessment.
The previous 2019 assessment indicated the bottomfish complex was overfished and undergoing overfishing, leading to a rebuilding plan that limited annual catches to below 5,000 pounds. However, using new methodology, the updated assessment shows that the bottomfish complex is no longer overfished or experiencing overfishing. The SSC may provide advice to the Council on the options for discontinuing the rebuilding plan, the ABC and accountability measures.
National Marine Sanctuary in PRI
The SSC will discuss updates on the proposed designation of a PRI sanctuary from the various federal agencies involved. The SSC may provide advice to the Council regarding: 1) the information required to potentially develop fishing regulations aligning with the proposed sanctuary’s goals and objectives, and 2) the adequacy of existing Council regulations from a scientific perspective and any necessary gap-filling measures.
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 existing fishing regulations for the PRI included in its Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) such as requirements for permits and reporting, 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.
Bigeye Tuna Management in the Pacific
At its September 2023 meeting, the Council will consider taking final action on the specification of the 2024 bigeye tuna limits for U.S. territories and catch transfer limits under the Pacific Pelagic FEP. The SSC will discuss a 2023 stock assessment and may provide advice to the Council regarding the continuation of the current annual specifications based on the new information.
The SSC members will also discuss and may provide input to the Council on several presentations about climate-related regional activities and funding priorities.
Recommendations made by the SSC will be considered by the Council when it meets Sept. 18-20, 2023, at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu. Instructions on connecting to the web conference, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/event/196th-council-meeting.