Press Release: Western Pacific Scientists to Discuss New Regional Analyses for Bottomfish, Kona Crab and False Killer Whales Next Week (9 June 2023)

News and Updates, Press Releases

HONOLULU (9 June 2023) Scientific advisors to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet June 14-16, 2023, to provide advice and comments on U.S. Pacific Territory bottomfish stocks, Kona crab fishery and false killer whale (FKW) assessments in Hawai‘i, the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) sanctuary, 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/148th-scientific-and-statistical-committee-meeting.

American Samoa Bottomfish Assessment
The SSC will discuss and evaluate a new bottomfish stock assessment model for the American Samoa fishery. The Council’s American Samoa Fishery Ecosystem Plan encompasses 11 bottomfish species, historically managed as a species complex. The previous 2019 assessment indicated the complex was overfished and undergoing overfishing, leading to a rebuilding plan that limited annual catches to below 5,000 pounds. However, using new methodology, a February 2023 assessment shows that the bottomfish complex is no longer overfished or experiencing overfishing. 

The 2023 stock assessment uses biological information from nine of the 11 species and improved the reconstruction of historical catch. In 2022, NOAA held a series of data workshops to refine the interpretation of catch records, in cooperation with fishermen, the Council and the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. The 2023 Western Pacific Stock Assessment Review panel found the methods and data integrations greatly improved the analysis. 

The SSC will review the report and recommendations and may provide feedback to determine whether the new stock assessment represents the best scientific information available (BSIA). If deemed appropriate, the Council will proceed with developing new annual catch limits based on the outcomes, replacing the rebuilding plan.

CNMI Bottomfish ABC Specification for 2024-2025
The SSC will consider specifying an acceptable biological catch (ABC) for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) bottomfish fisheries for fishing year 2024-2025. The specifications would be based on the 2019 Benchmark Stock Assessment of the Mariana Archipelago Bottomfish Fisheries, which the SSC previously considered BSIA. This assessment found the CNMI fishery was not overfished or experiencing overfishing.

As part of the process to determine annual catch limits (ACLs), the Council will take into account the ABCs calculated by the SSC. These ABCs incorporate the overfishing limit derived from the stock assessment, while considering scientific uncertainties.

MHI Kona Crab ABC Specification for 2024-2026
The SSC will also evaluate the ABC for the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) Kona crab fishery to assist the Council in developing an ACL. At a prior meeting, the SSC set the ABC at 30,802 pounds. The committee will determine if this specification remains accurate for fishing years 2024-2026 based on the 2019 stock assessment with catch projections to 2026. The assessment determined that the fishery is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. 

MHI False Killer Whale Assessments
The SSC will review new assessments conducted by the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center for two separate FKW populations around Hawai‘i. The first assessment updates the population estimate for the MHI insular FKWs, which is a small population that is considered genetically distinct from other populations around the region and listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. 

The second assessment focuses on the pelagic population of FKWs. The pelagic FKW range extends offshore from the MHI and well beyond the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but the outer extent of the range is unknown. The new assessment provided a population estimate for the pelagic stock both inside and outside the EEZ to account for its occurrence and overlap with the Hawai‘i longline fishery. NOAA provided the resulting pelagic population estimate to the FKW Take Reduction Team (TRT), which convened March 28-31, 2023. The TRT, established under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, aims to reduce mortality and serious injuries to FKWs. The SSC will also discuss a report of the TRT meeting. 

Proposed Pacific Remote Islands Sanctuary
The SSC will hear a presentation and discuss information from NOAA on the goals and objectives of the proposed national marine sanctuary in the PRI. The Council, under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, has the responsibility to develop fishing regulations. The National Marine Fisheries Service is preparing a position statement, which includes keeping an objective of sustainable fisheries within the sanctuary boundaries. The SSC may recommend specific analyses for NOAA to conduct as it prepares its Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed sanctuary.

The SSC meeting is a crucial platform for leading scientists, experts and stakeholders to collaborate and contribute their knowledge to the formulation of effective conservation strategies. By fostering dialogue and facilitating scientific deliberations, the SSC aims to protect and sustain the delicate balance of marine ecosystems while promoting responsible and sustainable fishing practices.

Recommendations made by the SSC on these and other matters will be considered by the Council when it meets June 27-29 at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei, American Samoa. Instructions on connecting to the web conference, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/event/195th-council-meeting.

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 (CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife); Tia Brown (acting, 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. State Dept.; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Michael Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.

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