Supporters of the fourfold expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument have fired back against an advertisement claiming the proposal would result in people being unable to eat fresh local fish.

A coalition called Expand Papahanaumokuakea has been circulating ads supporting the expansion of the monument, which currently covers 139,800 square miles around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The 30-second spot, primarily funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, features several people explaining why the expansion would be positive, citing the preservation of Native Hawaiian culture, fish stocks and new species yet to be discovered.

A school of Elegant Anthias (Caprodon unicolor), one of the most common fishes at 320 feet, Kure Atoll. These are Hawaiian endemic fishes (not known from anywhere else on Earth except Hawaii). Deep reefs at Kure Atoll were discovered to have the highest levels of endemism known from any marine ecosystem on Earth.
A school of elegant anthias, endemic to Hawaii, swim at Kure Atoll in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. NOAA

“We started seeing the opposition ad in a number of places and felt we can’t let that be the message people see here,” Seth Horstmeyer, director of Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy, said Monday.

President Barack Obama is expected to decide as soon as next week whether he should unilaterally expand the monument to include nearly 600,000 square miles by using the same executive authority under the Antiquities Act that President George W. Bush relied on to create the monument in 2006.

Supporters want Obama to make the announcement when the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress meets in Honolulu. The 10-day affair is set to open Sept. 1. Considered one of the world’s biggest environmental conferences, it’s held once every four years and this marks the first time the United States is hosting it.

While the months-long campaigns for and against the monument’s expansion have at times felt like an election between conservationists and commercial fishermen, these ads are not subject to state or federal campaign finance disclosure laws that help voters know who is behind what.

The proponents’ ad doesn’t identify anyone or say who produced it and ends by steering people to the group’s website,

It’s similar, in this regard, to the ad the opponents made. Organized under a coalition called Fishing Means Food, their ad features a series of people saying the expansion would drive up fish prices and lead to an increased amount of imported foreign fish. It ends by directing people to their website.

Neither group’s website explains who is financing the ads or coordinating their respective movements.

Civil Beat reported in July that commercial fishing interests produced the Fishing Means Food ad. It was paid for by Jim Cook, who runs Pacific Ocean Producers Fishing and Marine store in Honolulu.

He and his business partner, Sean Martin, are former chairs of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, which sets fishery management policies for a 1.5-million-square-mile area. Martin is also head of the Hawaii Longline Association and has been a strong voice in the effort to block the expansion.

Wespac is a 16-member government body that is tasked with advising the National Marine Fisheries Service on how to minimize bycatch, protect habitat and prevent overfishing.

An environmental group recently filed a complaint with federal officials over Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds’ role in orchestrating opposition to the monument’s proposed expansion.

The Conservation Council for Hawaii uncovered emails Simonds sent in her official capacity that lay out a game plan of sorts to defeat the proposal. There’s been no response to the complaint, as of Monday.

‘We Have To Counter This Message’

Horstmeyer said the Expand Papahanaumokuakea coalition and its advertisements were primarily funded by Pew, a major non-governmental organization that works to protect the environment.

He said Stan Chang of the Honolulu film production company Gravity produced the ad, which started airing July 22 on a variety of cable and local TV stations and is continuing to be used online.

“We decided we have to counter this message because it’s just so blatantly false,” Horstmeyer said, adding that the group chose to strike a positive tone as “an alternative to the negative, fear-based, misinformation.”

Seth Horstmeyer, director of Global Ocean Legacy, Pew Charitable Trusts
Seth Horstmeyer, director of Global Ocean Legacy, The Pew Charitable Trusts Courtesy: Pew Charitable Trusts

In the Fishing Means Food ad, which ran in June on Oceanic Time Warner Cable and is still circulating online, a woman is asked what the monument expansion would mean. Looking into the camera, she tells viewers: “I wouldn’t be able to eat fresh local fish anymore.”

That wouldn’t be true, even if the statement only applied to ahi.

Commercial fishermen say they catch on average 8 percent of their annual allotment of bigeye tuna in the area proposed for expanded protections, but they would be free to make up that lost catch by going elsewhere in the Pacific.

Longline fishermen target bigeye for the high prices the migratory fish fetches in local sashimi markets. The longliners reported hauling in 27 million pounds of fish overall in 2013, with a dockside value of $85.4 million.

Since 2014, the longliners have hit the limit for the number of pounds they are allowed to catch annually before each year’s end.

The U.S. fleet of roughly 145 longline vessels, almost entirely based in Honolulu, hit its 2016 limit of about 3,500 metric tons for the Western and Central Pacific on July 22.

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

The longliners are working on a way to resume fishing by paying Pacific Island territories for some of their unused quota limits, but the feds have yet to complete the rule-making needed for the fishermen to take advantage of these transfers and resume fishing.

Last year, after hitting their bigeye quota limit in August, they struck a deal that involved paying the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam a combined $400,000 so they could fish for another 2,000 tons of ahi.

The money is deposited into the Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund, which the territories use for fishery development projects approved by their respective governors, according to Wespac spokeswoman Sylvia Spalding. This includes things like boat ramps, fish markets, processing facilities, training programs and loan programs.

‘Legitimate Vetting’ Sought

Wespac recommended the quota-sharing agreements with the Pacific territories that NMFS adopted in March 2014.

“The only thing keeping the Hawaii-based longliners from fishing for bigeye right now — and what truly causes uncertainty in the market for small businesses and consumers — is the rush to catch as much as possible as quickly as possible,” Horstmeyer said. “Here we are one month to the day from when the quota expired and they are still saying protected areas are bad for business.”

Peter Apo seafood fishing editorial. 24 june 2016
State Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Peter Apo, an expansion opponent, says Pew knows “how to work the turf.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Peter Apo, a Civil Beat columnist who has opposed the monument’s expansion, said Tuesday that Pew and the proposal’s supporters seem to be targeting fishermen. (Apo dissented in OHA’s vote to support the expansion.)

He said he wants a “legitimate vetting” of the proposal that addresses what protections an expanded monument would add that don’t exist already in those federal waters.

Apo said he’s seen Pew get involved with creating marine monuments in the past, whether it was the Pacific Remote Islands or the initial creation of Papahanaumokuakea.

“They have lots of influence, particularly in the Pacific Island governments and other areas,” he said. “They’re very well organized and sophisticated, and they really know how to work the turf.”

Spalding pointed to Wespac’s summer newsletter, Pacific Islands Fishery News, which focuses almost exclusively on reasons to oppose the monument’s expansion and devotes an entire page to Pew.

The article explained Pew’s history — it was created by Sun Oil Company founder Joseph Pew — and references past news stories about its involvement in other monuments.

“It is so unfortunate that Pew is so desperate in getting the Obama administration to adopt the Pew’s Ocean Legacy goal that it has to buy ads,” Spalding said.

Apo said he wishes Pew would be more upfront with its involvement.

“I think everyone has a right to pursue political and environmental policies,” he said. “I just wish they could do it with a little more sunshine.”

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