WestPac is reconsidering what “non-commercial fishing” and “cultural fishing” should mean
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is crafting new definitions that could allow more fishing in restricted waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa.
The Honolulu-based council, known as Wespac, and its scientific advisory committee must decide what “non-commercial fishing” should include in the expanded portion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and what “cultural fishing” should mean in American Samoa.
Environmental groups, the territorial government of American Samoa and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have raised concerns over any changes that would enable commercial fishing in places that were set up to be off-limits to longline tuna fleets and others.
But the council has maintained that it is working on legally mandated definitions that are consistent with indigenous practices and balance the health of fish stocks with the livelihoods of fishermen.
“Wespac’s efforts to twist the English language to further its agenda to overexploit our ocean resources recalls Humpty Dumpty’s abuse of language in ‘Through the Looking Glass,’” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.
“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’”
The council recommended a rule in 2015, approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that allowed authorized U.S.-flagged longline vessels to fish closer to American Samoa’s islands beginning in January 2016. The fishermen target albacore tuna for the Starkist cannery there.
The rule effectively shrank the Large Vessel Prohibited Area in the territory to extend 12 miles seaward instead of 50 miles around Tutuila, Manua Islands and Swains Island. The council argued that some of the original reasons for the prohibited area, which the council had created in 2002, no longer existed, such as gear entanglements.
Wespac staff member Eric Kingma said when the prohibited area was established there were roughly 40 smaller alia fishing vessels and about 25 larger longliners.
As a precautionary measure, Kingma said the council put forward a rule that said the alia boats could fish closer to the islands and the longliners had to stay farther out.
But now there is only one active alia longline fisherman, who happens to be the council’s newest member, Eo Mokoma. And the number of longliners has dropped to fewer than 20, he said. The longliners who fish there must have a valid American Samoa permit, which some of the longliners based in Honolulu have.
Government leaders in American Samoa nonetheless took issue with the exemption and sued the U.S. government soon after it took effect.
U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi vacated the exemption in March because NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service failed to ensure the rule was consistent with the Deeds of Cession between the United States and the leaders of various Samoan islands.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the Fisheries Service asked the judge to reconsider her order, but last week Kobayashi denied their request.