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Federal fishery managers weigh-in on Marine National Monument draft plans

Map of Marine Nat’l Monuments of the Pacific.
Fisheries research delayed due to COVID-19
Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Honolulu, HAWAII — The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concludes its three-day virtual meeting today (Friday, June 26, 2020).

Discussion on the first day of the meeting ranged from marine national monuments, COVID-19 impacts, stock assessments, fisheries performance and more.

The Council manages federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai'i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands Areas.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) reported that development of draft management plans for two marine national monuments are ongoing. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument were established on Jan. 6, 2009, by presidential proclamation.

Together with monument expansion of PRIMNM by President Obama on Sept. 29, 2014, the monuments prohibit US commercial fishing vessels from operating in nearly 600,000 square miles of US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters.

The Council recommended that NMFS PIRO include the CNMI Monument Advisory Committee and the Territory of Guam in the review of the draft management plan for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. According to the presidential proclamations, the management plans were to have been developed within two years of establishment of the monuments.

NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) reported on the impacts of COVID-19 on the Hawai'i commercial fisheries and markets. The report shows that revenue dropped by 80% due to restaurant closures and travel/visitor restrictions. PIFSC Director Mike Seki also shared a tool PIFSC researchers built that provides a visualized market demand curve based on historical data. The tool allows industry to explore tradeoffs in market supply and price to meet objectives.

The Council recommended that PIFSC coordinate with agencies and industry representatives in the territories to provide market monitoring analyses and demand tracking app for each area.

Seki also reported that three cruises on the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette and another on the NOAA ship Rainer have been cancelled due to COVID-19 impacts. The Council recommended that PIFSC coordinate with the Council and the Territory of American Samoa's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources to determine viable logistic solutions to continue the American Samoa research cruise.

American Samoa bottomfish has been determined recently by NMFS to be overfished and subject to overfishing. The Council has two years to develop and implement a rebuilding plan for the stock in federal waters. Most of the fishery occurs in waters 0 to 3 miles offshore under jurisdiction of the territory. Many fishery advisors, fishermen and scientists point to the lack of complete and accurate data as the reason for the pessimistic stock status determination.

The Council also agreed that the impacts of COVID-19 to the region's fisheries should be noted in the Council's 2020 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports. The Council reviewed and approved the 2019 SAFE reports, which can be found on the Council's website.