With President Barack Obama set to arrive Friday for vacation on Oahu, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is making another push for his administration to ease the anticipated impacts of the newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on Hawaii’s $100 million commercial fishing industry.
Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds and Chair Ed Ebisui Jr. have asked the president to delay implementation of the commercial fishing prohibition for five years, pointing out how there’s a precedent for phasing in such bans.
Using his executive authority under the Antiquities Act, Obama signed a proclamation in August to quadruple the size of Papahanaumokuakea around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The commercial fishing ban took effect immediately.
President George W. Bush used the same act when he initially created the monument in 2006.
Wespac’s 13 voting members from around the Western Pacific region have jurisdiction over 1.5 million square miles of ocean. Officially an advisory body to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the group has a long history of fighting for the interests of Hawaii’s longline fishermen, who mostly target bigeye tuna for local sashimi markets.
Simonds was involved in a months-long campaign to defeat the proposal to expand the monument, and the council as a body opposed it. Nonetheless, the council is tasked with recommending regulations to implement the fishing provisions in the proclamation.
Commercial fishermen relied on the expanded monument area for about 10 percent of their annual catch, Simonds and Ebisui told Obama in their Dec. 1 letter. They estimated a similar loss from Obama’s 2014 expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
In all, Wespac officials say marine national monuments now comprise roughly 51 percent of U.S. waters around Pacific islands.
Over the past five years, Hawaii longline vessels have on average caught 2.5 million tons of tuna and other types of pelagic fish annually in the Papahanaumokuakea expanded area, valued at roughly $8 million.
Simonds and Ebisui said its closure also threatens businesses that support the fishery, such as fuel and gear suppliers. These economic impacts are estimated to total $13.2 million when factoring in the potential losses in household income, they said.
The longliners operate under a quota-management system established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international treaty-based group. Under this system, they can catch a certain amount of tuna each year in U.S. exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 miles out from Hawaii and island territories, or in international waters, where they have been catching most of their fish.
The longliners hit their 3,554-ton limit for bigeye this year by the end of July, prompting the fishery to temporarily close. It was reopened after tuna industry leaders secured an agreement with Pacific island territories to pay them for some of their unused quota.
Ebisui said in a Wespac news release Thursday that the monument’s expansion never had a broad base of support.
“The push … was driven not by popular demand but by a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization, the Pew Environment Group, which has had the ear of successive presidents,” he said.
But Seth Horstmeyer, director of The Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Ocean Legacy, said Thursday that the original proposal for the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea actually came from a cultural working group and Native Hawaiians.
In February, a group of seven prominent Native Hawaiians sent Obama a letter asking him to expand federal protections around Papahanaumokuakea. The signatories included Hawaiian Home Lands Deputy Director William Aila, former chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources; Kamana‘opono Crabbe, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; and Nainoa Thompson, navigator and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, among others.
“The campaign to expand Papahanaumokuakea is how Pew works across the globe,” Horstmeyer said.
“We partner with local communities, local government, we advocate with sound science and we take the support to the decision-makers, in this case President Obama, and advocate for what’s best for the environment,” he said. “The science is telling us that we need more areas protected from overfishing and those areas will not only be marine reserves, they’ll be climate reserves, and help island communities better sustain the impacts of our warming planet.”
Wespac officials said climate change impacts will not be mitigated by banning commercial fishing in a limited area of U.S. waters. The council has also questioned whether the Antiquities Act has been appropriately used to create and later expand the monuments.
“The Antiquities Act process circumvents the National Environmental Policy Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, both of which require environmental, social and economic analysis and public input,” Simonds said in a statement Thursday.
When Pew was working with the Native Hawaiian community for the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument a few years ago, Horstmeyer said Wespac and the longliners similarly warned of economic harm and how it would be bad for the tuna industry. The next year, after Obama expanded the monument, he said they caught a record amount of fish.
“Their facts clearly don’t add up,” Horstmeyer said. “I think it’s disingenuous for the longline industry to claim that there’s going to be an economic loss from marine reserves like Papahanaumokuakea. The majority of their fishing is done outside of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and if they were that concerned about the reduction of fishing, why would they still be advocating to get additional quota to catch more fish?”
Read Wespac’s most recent letters to Obama below.