Proposed Fishing Limits for Hawaiian Marine Sanctuary, Saipan Tribune, 04/25/06
Source: Saipan Tribune
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council took final action Thursday to recommend fishery management measures for the proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
The Council, which used a two-meeting decision-making process, had taken an initial vote to measures in March. In its final vote in Honolulu by teleconference, the Council upheld the March recommendations, which are:
* Establish no-fishing (for any species) marine protected areas (MPAs) around the French Frigate Shoals and in waters surrounding Kure Atoll Midway Atoll and Pearl and Hermes Reef, except for recreational fishing at Midway Atoll, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the non-MPA waters:
- Prohibit fishing for lobster, precious coral and coral reef fish indefinitely;
- Continue to ban longline fishing;
- Reduce the number of commercial bottomfish fishing permits from 17 to 14 vessels (vessels continue to be restricted to 60 feet length or less);
- Allow only three commercial pelagic (troll and handline) fishing vessels;
- Allow recreational vessels, with permit and reporting requirements, on a case-by-case basis;
- Cap commercial bottomfish catches at 381,500 pounds per year; and
- Cap total commercial pelagic catches (caught by both the pelagic and bottomfish vessels) to 180,000 pounds per year.
The amount of fishing proposed by the Council is a very conservative amount, accounting for less than 85 percent of the maximum sustainable yield of the bottomfish and less than 1 percent of the catch of the highly migratory Pacific pelagic tuna stocks.
As a point of comparison, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is geographically about the same size as the proposed NWHI Sanctuary and a World Heritage Site, allows an annual harvest of 52.8 million pounds of seafood by the commercial sector alone, including trawl, coral reef line, inshore finfish and dive-based fisheries. In addition, more than 800,000 recreational fishers catch between 7.7 million to 9.5 million pounds of seafood; some 120 fishing charter vessels operate, ranging from large reef-going charter vessels to smaller inshore operators; and an unknown amount of indigenous fishing occurs.
The Council also took final action to allow the proposed NWHI Sanctuary, under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, to manage traditional and cultural Native Hawaiian subsistence and sustenance use of NWHI fishery resources as well as on-board consumption (i.e., sustenance) use by permitted vessels in federal waters.
The Council also took initial action on measures to further refine these measures. Among the issues addressed are the criteria for determining which three non-longline pelagic vessels will be allowed to fish in the NWHI, analyses of date that led to the 180,000 pounds pelagic cap, the impact of the Sanctuary parties should fishing be prohibited within the sanctuary.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, NWHI pelagic fishermen Joe Dettling testified that the data from the State of Hawaii are inaccurate. He said that at least six pelagic vessels historically fish in the area (rather than two) and that the fishery at the weather buoy during a tuna run has produced up to a half million pounds of fish in a week. For example, a big run of 100-to-200-pound tuna in 2002 produced 600,000 pounds of landed fish in two months.
"The decision being made is based on data that could be off by 80 to 90 percent," he said, adding that the catch reports he submits to the State do not correspond with the State printouts he has received.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Council is mandated to develop, monitor and amend fishery management plans for federal waters surrounding the U.S. Pacific islands, including Hawaii. Fisheries in the NWHI have been managed under these FMPs the past 30 years, but were put into question in late 2000 when President Clinton designated the NWHI as a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. The Executive Orders also initiated the process to designate the Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA plans to release the draft environment impact statement for the proposed Sanctuary in June of this year and has provided the Council with an opportunity to recommend management measures that would allow limited bottomfish and pelagic fishing to continue in the areas. NOAA has stated that, if it selects an alternative that allows for fishing in the proposed sanctuary, it would review the Council's recommendations as potential mechanisms to implement limits to fishing in the NWHI under the MSA rather than the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.
The proposed sanctuary is a 100-mile-wide swath of water that spans approximately 1,200 miles, i.e., roughly the distance from Seattle to San Diego. It encompasses about three-quarters of the Hawaii archipelago. If designation is successful, the NWHI Sanctuary would be seven times larger than the 13 existing National Marine Sanctuaries combined and larger than the entire U.S. National Park system. Fishing is allowed in all of the existing sanctuaries except the 0.25 square-mile Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuaries in American Samoa.
Commercial fishing has existed in the NWHI for over a century. Those involved in the sanctuary-designated process have described the water of the NWHI as pristine. No fishery stocks within the proposed sanctuary are overfished, according to NMFS scientists, and the NWHI bottomfish and troll/handline pelagic fisheries have virtually no impact on the habitat or protected species, according to NMFS and the National Marine Sanctuary Program.