Federal officials plan to hold two public meetings next month — one on Oahu and the other on Kauai — to discuss the proposed expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, according to a draft notice that’s expected to go out Friday.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii submitted a proposal June 16 that asked President Obama to consider using his executive authority to expand the monument fourfold around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The current 50-mile boundary around the islands, which President George W. Bush established in 2006, encompasses 139,800 square miles. Schatz’s proposed expansion to 200 miles for most of the reserve would protect 582,578 square miles.

This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Courtesy: Sen. Brian Schatz

Commercial fishermen and restaurant owners have come out against the proposal, saying it restricts access to an area where fishermen catch on average 8 percent of their annual haul of bigeye tuna.

Conservationists and scientists have said it’s critical to preserve this pristine area for the sake of the species that live there — known and yet to be discovered — as well as combating the effects of climate change.

Both sides have said they want a public input process to let the administration know what’s at stake. The process isn’t required by law, but it appears the feds have heard their call.

The first meeting is slated for 5 p.m., Aug. 1 at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu. The second is set for 4 p.m., Aug. 2 at the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center. Both are anticipated to be three hours long.

The draft notice of the meetings said that while Obama evaluates the proposal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are “seeking input from all interested parties to ensure that any expansion of the Monument protects the unique features of the (Northwest Hawaiian Islands) for future generations while recognizing the importance of sustainable ocean-based economies. Please join us to share your comments, concerns, and visions regarding the proposed expansion.”

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council spokeswoman Sylvia Spalding said Wespac supports the government holding public meetings in Hawaii “but is puzzled that the draft notice of the meetings has NOAA as the convener.

“Our understanding was that the White House Council on Environmental Quality was going to convene these important public meetings,” she said. “We are also surprised to see that the Oahu venue is at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu rather than a more central location such as the State Capitol or the Ala Moana Hotel.”

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