Federal managers seek to retain US fishery access to US waters
HONOLULU — The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded its three-day meeting in Honolulu Thursday with a suite of recommendations, many of which are focused on keeping US fishing grounds open to sustainably managed US fisheries.
The Council includes local fishery department directors from Hawai'i, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), fishing experts appointed by the Governors and federal agencies involved in fishing-related activities.
Council Chair Edwin A. Ebisui Jr. Council clarified that Council communications to the Administration about impacts of marine national monuments on fisheries is not lobbying. Some environmental activists recently made misleading statements about this in regards to a letter to President Trump prepared on March 1, 2017, by the Council Coordination Committee (CCC). The CCC includes the chairs of the nation's eight regional fishery management councils.
The letter details the impact of designations of Marine National Monuments under the Antiquities Act in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and was submitted to the President after conferring with the NOAA Office of General Counsel.
To address the impacts of ever increasing fishing grounds being closed, the Council this week agreed to the following:
- Direct the Council chair to request that the President remove fishing prohibitions within the Marine National Monuments in the US Pacific Islands, therefore reestablishing management of those fisheries under the authority of the Council and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The voting members of the Council agreed to this action, with abstentions by the State of Hawaii and Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Office. Ebisui noted that MSA requires not only conservation and protection of marine resources but also their optimal use. The United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes with an estimated 30 percent or more from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries. He noted the absurdity of US actions that support these IUU fisheries by closing off US fishing waters for regulated US fisheries. Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds noted that the Governors of American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI have already sent a similar request to the President.
- Communicate to the Secretary of Commerce concerns related to the proposal to overlay a national marine sanctuary on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, including the scope of the proposal, federal overreach, regulatory duplication and increased administrative costs. Council Member John Gourley (CNMI) noted that the two petitioners are the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Friends of the Marianas Trench, which was established by Pew in 2008. Council Member Va'amua Henry Sesepasara, who directs the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, said the American Samoa government is considering to request removal of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, in part because of its fishing prohibitions.
- Request that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) analyze the potential impacts on protected species from effort redistribution related to fishery provisions to prohibit commercial fishing in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument expanded area, 50 to 200 miles offshore around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, encompassing waters twice the size of Texas.
- Work with NMFS and NOAA General Counsel to review the US District Court's decision regarding Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) and to evaluate next steps, which could include requesting the Court to stay the decision pending reconsideration or appeal of the court's decision; and further, to provide regulatory relief for the American Samoa longline fleet because it continues to face dire economic conditions. Council Members Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, an owner of American Samoa longline vessels, noted that the longline vessels being prohibited access from the area are owned and operated by local American Samoans. Council Member Taotasi Archie Soliai of StarKist Samoa noted the importance of the albacore tuna caught by the local longline fleet and landed at the cannery. The cannery is the largest non-government employer in the Territory. A second cannery in the Territory closed earlier this year, in part due to difficulties with tuna landings.
- Request that the Guam Department of Agriculture and the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife report on the efficacy of the Guam Marine Preserves and CNMI MPAs to determine how they have met their management objectives.
- Reconvene the Bottomfish Working Group to develop a plan that provides options for opening the State of Hawaii Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas; and request the State of Hawaii develop guidelines for the closure of any area to fishing and consider, as a requirement of closing an area to fishing, the development of a plan that includes regular monitoring of the area and a periodic assessment to the determine if management objectives have been met.
- Request that the DOD and the CNMI, in their consultations on the continued use of Farallon de Medinilla for military training and testing, include the fishing community to determine appropriate compensation and mitigation for damage and loss of fisheries, noting that recent expansion of Federal Aviation Administration Restricted Airspace from 3 to 12 nautical miles around the island has further impacted the local fishing community through reduced access to prime fishing grounds and increased transit times.
- Request that the CNMI government evaluate the impacts to trolling and atulai (mackerel scad) fishing operations due to the anchoring of [military] prepositioning ships off the islands of Saipan.
- Request that the DOD complete an inventory and assessment report of all military dump sites throughout the CNMI and surrounding waters.
Besides fishing ground access, the Council this week also addressed, among other items, the newly introduced amendment to the Billfish Conservation Act that would limit the sale of billfish caught in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI to the US mainland; the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission longline bigeye tuna catch limit for US vessels greater than 24 meters in length in the Eastern Pacific Ocean; management options for the next Western and Central Pacific Commission tropical tuna measure; and local fishery development including fish aggregation devices, marina repairs, boat ramps, docks, training and loan programs. For more information on the meeting, go to http://www.wpcouncil.org/category/upcoming-council-and-advisory-body-meetings/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (808) 522-8220.