The world’s second-largest protected place, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is not on the list of 10 monuments that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended President Trump change in size or use, according to a White House memo obtained by media outlets.

But conservationists, Native Hawaiians and others who fought to have the monument established in 2009 and then expanded last year are not resting easy. While Zinke’s report to Trump did not mention Papahanaumokuakea by name, the president could still make changes to it, and commercial fishermen have not stopped pressuring him to do so.

In April, Trump ordered a review of 27 monuments that past presidents established by using their executive authority under the Antiquities Act. A public comment period wrapped up in July, with the vast majority of respondents in favor of maintaining the existing monuments.

A bluefin trevally at Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Courtesy: Kydd Pollock/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Zinke issued his report to the president Aug. 24 but only the two-page executive summary was released, leaving the public in the dark about what monuments he had targeted for modifications.

On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported the full 19-page memo, which the Washington Post later published online. In his report, Zinke recommends reducing the size or changing the allowable uses of seven land monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada, and allowing commercial fishing in three marine monuments, including Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll in the Pacific, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic.

“While I fully agree that the protections put in place for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument not be undercut, the suggested opening of fishing within the Pacific Remote Islands is a mistake,” said Bob Richmond, director of Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
Richmond said opening the monument to fishing would allow short-term profits for a small group of fishers at the expense of long-term benefits to these businesses and future generations who will depend on diminishing resources.
This NOAA map shows the U.S. exclusive economic zone boundaries and four marine national monuments. Courtesy: NOAA Fisheries

Commercial tuna fishermen in Hawaii, with support from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, have repeatedly asked the Trump administration to reopen the expanded portion of Papahanaumokuakea — 442,781 square miles — to commercial fishing.

They said Monday they were pleased with the proposed changes to allow commercial fishing in three of the marine monuments, but disappointed that Papahanaumokuakea was not included.

“We hope that the White House will extend these recommendations to the Papahanaumokuakea Monument, where President Obama closed an area nearly the size of Alaska without a substantive public process,” said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association, in a news release from the nonprofit Saving Seafood.

“The longline fleet caught about 2 million pounds of fish annually from the expanded area before it was closed to our American fishermen,” he said. “That was a high price to pay for a presidential legacy.”

The longline fleet of roughly 140 vessels, almost all of which are based in Honolulu, primarily target bigeye tuna for fresh sashimi markets and restaurants. The fishermen have estimated that $7 million worth of fish — about 10 percent of their annual catch — comes from within the expanded portion of Papahanaumokuakea.

A mixed school of tuna is caught in a purse seine net. Courtesy: Bill Boyce/

Monument supporters, however, point out that public hearings were held last year when the expansion was under consideration and that the fishermen operate on a quota-based system, meaning they are free to make up that lost catch elsewhere in the Pacific as they have done in the past.

Earlier this month, the longliners hit their annual limits of 3,138 tons of bigeye in the Western and Central Pacific and 500 tons in the Eastern Pacific. Efforts are underway for them to continue fishing for more bigeye, one of two types of tuna known as ahi in Hawaii, through $250,000 agreements to use up to 1,000 tons of the 2,000-ton limits apiece for Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas.

Among the diverse reasons cited to protect the waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was giving highly migratory tunas a place of refuge to breed and grow larger. The monument was also expected to help cut down on the amount of fishing nets, buoys and other marine debris that can threaten endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and other animals.

Papahanaumokuakea, established by President George W. Bush in 2006 for environmental as well as historical and cultural reasons, protects the habitat of more than 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are believed to be found nowhere else. It’s also home to 14 million seabirds that nest there.

Several hundred crew members work on roughly 140 U.S. longline boats, such as these docked in Honolulu. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll marine national monuments were established in 2009 to protect reef ecosystems. President Obama expanded Pacific Remote Islands in 2014 to include 495,189 square miles.

Zinke’s memo notes that commercial longline fishermen from Hawaii and American Samoa used to fish within the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands monument. It also says the American Samoa economy is “heavily dependent” on the canned tuna industry that the purse seiners supply from fish caught in the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll monuments.

Narrissa Spies, a biologist at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, said the science supports keeping the monuments intact. She added that the monument continues to be strongly supported by the Native Hawaiian community and the vast majority of Hawaii residents.

She said invertebrates and other marine organisms don’t recognize a monument’s boundaries “but are the ones ultimately in danger of losing their homes if protections are rolled back.”

Below is the memo from Zinke that the Washington Post published. A more legible copy was not available.

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