Westpac fishery scientists consider proposed sanctuary and other issues
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — PRI on Scientific advisors to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council are meeting this week to provide advice and comments on the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) sanctuary as well as U.S. territorial bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits, and other issues.
The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) is reviewing the available scientific information and discussing whether the existing fishing regulations in the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) are sufficient for a proposed national marine sanctuary. The SSC may provide recommendations to the Council regarding: 1) whether existing regulations provide comprehensive and long-lasting protection for the PRI, and 2) whether there is science to show conservation benefits that justify further fishing prohibitions. The proposed sanctuary overlays the current PRI Marine National Monument and would create duplicative management regimes, which is a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned income.
In September 2023, the Council preliminarily found that the existing fishing regulations under the current structure may already meet the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary, in alignment with the SSC’s recommendation. The Council will consider additional information at its December meeting before taking final action on the fishing regulations. The final decision is due to NOAA by Dec. 20, 2023.
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 been putting fishing regulations into place for the PRI FEP since 1986, such as requirements for permits and reporting on protected species interactions and bycatch, 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
At its December 2023 meeting, the Council will consider taking final action on the specification of the 2024-2026 bigeye tuna limits for U.S. territories and catch transfer limits under the Pacific Pelagic FEP. The SSC will discuss a 2023 stock assessment that indicates the bigeye tuna stock in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is not subject to overfishing and catch amounts could be significantly increased without posing a risk of overfishing. The SSC may provide advice to the Council regarding the catch and allocation limits based on the new information.
The SSC members will also discuss and may provide input to the Council on several presentations on its Inflation Reduction Act proposal and research priorities for the next few years.
Recommendations made by the SSC will be considered by the Council when it meets virtually Dec. 11-12, 2023, with host sites at 1164 Bishop St., Ste. 1400, Honolulu, HI; Cliff Pointe, Tedi of Samoa Bldg. Ste. 208B, Fagatogo Village, American Samoa; 304 W. O'Brien Dr., Hagatna, Guam; BRI Bldg. Ste. 205, Kopa Di Oru St., Garapan, Saipan, CNMI. Instructions on connecting to the web conference, agendas and briefing documents are posted at www.wpcouncil.org/event/197th-council-meeting.