WestPac concerned about proposed amendment to fed Billfish Conservation Act

American Samoa affected, but mostly Hawaii if passed

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has shared with the federal government their concerns on the impact of Pacific fisheries with a proposed amendment to the federal Billfish Conservation Act (BCA).

The proposed amendment, through federal legislation, was introduced last month in the US Senate and one of the many issues discussed during the 169th Meeting of the Council in Honolulu from Mar. 21-23.

In a Mar. 31 letter to US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., the Council shared  their concern over a US Senate bill, which seeks to amend BCA.

Council chairman Edwin A. Ebisui Jr., informed Ross that the proposed amendment “would prohibit the sale of billfish and billfish products” from Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to the mainland USA.

“Such a prohibition would impede billfish harvests from achieving optimum yield and may lead to an increase in regulatory bycatch,” Ebisui explained. “Restricting the sale of sustainably caught fisheries resources interferes with interstate commerce and is contrary to principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which is to produce optimal yield for the benefit of the Nation.”

According to the Council chair, Congress passed the BCA in October 2012, and the US National Marine Fisheries Service issued a proposed rule in April 2013. And the proposed rule followed the language in the BCA, which included an exemption for sales of billfish to the mainland US from domestic landings into Hawaii and the other US islands of the Western Pacific Region.

“However, the rule has never been finalized,” he said, adding that the proposed amendment alters the original language of the BCA “and would shut down this long established U.S. market for U.S. fisheries operating within the Western Pacific Region.”

Based on Ebisui’s letter the most impacted on the proposed amendment is Hawaii with  billfish landings marketed on the mainland amount to about 550,000 lbs per year, worth approximately $600,000 annually in wholesale value.

Additionally, the Western Pacific Region has an industry of value added billfish products such as smoked marlin and marlin pate, jerky and sausages.

At its 169th Meeting in Honolulu in mid February, the Council agreed to provide to Ross information on the stock status of Pacific billfish and the economic impact of the introduced amendment.

The Council noted that US mainland sport fishing tournaments target billfish and requested information from NMFS on the estimated number of billfish killed in these US mainland tournaments and whether or not the billfish retained goes to local consumption.

“Most of the billfish landed and sold in the Western Pacific Region is Pacific blue marlin, which is not subject to overfishing or in an overfished condition,” notes Kitty M. Simonds, the Council’s executive director in a news release after the Honolulu meeting.

In his letter, Ebisui informed Ross that sound management policies to ensure the optimal yields of healthy stocks, rather than arbitrary allocations between commercial and recreational sectors and geographic regions, are the key to effective conservation.

“We hope that our concerns about impacts to our fisheries will be factored into the evaluation of the proposed BCA amendment by your staff,” Ebisui said adding that the Council would respond to any questions US Commerce may have about billfish fisheries in the Western Pacific.

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