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Pacific Islands Fishery News: Change Expected with Federal Transition

Most humans take comfort in stability and a slow pace of change. Unfortunately, the world is dispassionate about our desire for equilibrium. Instead, it is dynamic, with conditions continually shifting and evolving.

In terms of change, 2016 has been a momentous period. The election of Donald J. Trump as the nation’s 45th president caught the country by surprise. If Secretary Hillary Clinton had won, she likely would have continued the policies and legacies of President Obama. Trump will follow a much different agenda. On environmental issues, he is a known skeptic of climate change, which has been a key policy issue for Obama, leading to the international adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, on Dec. 12, 2015, in Paris, and the United States ratifying and entering it into force in September and November 2016, respectively.

Another Obama policy has been the “blue legacy,” using the Antiquities Act to transform large areas of US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters into marine national monuments (MNMs).

Until recently, all the proclaimed MNMs were in the Western Pacific Region, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), Rose Atoll, Marianas Trench and Pacific Remote Islands MNMs.

In 2016, Obama expanded the NWHI monument, pushing its 50-nautical mile (nm) boundary to the limits of the 200-nm EEZ. The executive action in late August momentarily created the largest marine protected area in the world, surpassing the size of the Pacific Remote Islands MNM, which Obama had expanded in 2014. The NWHI monument lost its claim to fame after two months with

the creation of the Ross Sea marine reserve in Antarctica in October.

It will be interesting to see how Trump might affect the governance of the MNMs. Will his administration maintain the status quo of allowing only recreational and subsistence fishing, or will the terms of these protected areas be modified? Hopefully, Trump, as a businessman, will understand the economic importance of fishing, particularly commercial fishing, for our region. Currently, 61 percent of US EEZ waters around Hawai‘i and about 30 percent in the US Western Pacific Region are closed to commercial fishing.

Also troubling is the aging of our region’s fishing fleets and communities. Fishing is no longer an employment opportunity that attracts local people into its ranks. Fewer Americans are inclined to endure the rigors and hard life of fishing, with trips lasting up to several weeks. Therefore, foreign fishermen are recruited to crew US fishing vessels, including those in Hawai‘i, and imports

account for more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States, a market share that continues to increase.

However, we are at the beginning of a new era, one that promises to be interesting as our country adjusts to new policies and perspectives. Change is as inevitable as night and day. Our region’s fisheries and the Council need to be prepared to meet these challenges and opportunities.