Using COVID-19 To Undermine Pacific Marine Monuments Is Wrong - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Rick Gaffney

Rick Gaffney is a fisherman, a lifetime resident of Hawaii and a former council member of Wespac. He has fished on or around all the Main Hawaiian Islands and previously managed the sport fishery at Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He has written extensively about techniques, destinations and the history of fishing in Hawaii and across the Pacific.

Julie Leialoha

Julie Leialoha has worked professionally in the natural resources management field since 1985 and has served on multiple boards including Wespac. Currently, she is a board member for the Mauna Kea Management Board and Conservation Council for Hawaii.


COVID-19 has affected the lives and livelihoods of many in Hawaii and commercial fishermen and fishery-related businesses are no exception. Longline fishermen are experiencing less demand for their catch due to a decline in tourism, in part because of the mandatory 14-day quarantine of air passengers aimed to slow the virus’ spread.

Unfortunately, the human and economic toll that society has suffered by the pandemic is being used by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to drive its anti-conservation agenda against the ocean. That is shameful.

In early May, President Trump issued an executive order purportedly intended to support the U.S. fishing industry and ease “the pain in the checkout line,” as one Trump administration official put it — implying that America was not producing enough fish to satisfy consumers.

On June 5, Donald Trump took the matter a step further and signed another executive order to allow commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument located off the coast of southern New England.

The area is considered a national treasure, home to 73 species of coral, marine mammals like beaked whales, three submarine canyons (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and four seamounts, the only ones in the U.S. Atlantic.

Bluefin trevally are one of 7,000 species within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Wespac and the Trump administration foolishly want to undermine this precious resource.

Courtesy: Lindsey Kramer/USFWS

In reality, the executive orders do little to support the fishing industry in this time of crisis, and fail to recognize, as a Civil Beat story reported, that the challenge facing the fishing industry right now — here in Hawaii and around the country — is not a lack of supply, it is a lack of market demand for fish.

In fact, as Civil Beat pointed out, the executive director of the Hawaii Longline Association told The Washington Post in April that two thirds of the association’s vessels were tied up in port due to the lack of demand for their catch caused by the pandemic.

Bucking The Science

Still, that did not stop Kitty Simonds, the longtime executive director of Wespac, from using this moment in our history to revive persistent calls to open both Papahanaumokuakea and the Pacific Remote Islands marine national monuments to commercial fishing instead of focusing limited resources to help fishermen survive the economic challenges presented by this crisis.

On May 8, Simonds and Wespac Chair Archie Soliai sent a letter to the Trump administration arguing that fishing restrictions in marine monuments should be lifted for the industrial longline and purse seine fleets.

So why the insistence on opening Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument now, when the industry clearly doesn’t need more fish?

Regrettably, Simonds and heads of the industrial fishing fleets have consistently bucked or have opposed science-based measures that contribute to a healthy, thriving ocean and benefit the fisheries that the industry and our residents rely upon. During our service on Wespac, we watched Simonds and industry officials relentlessly push to open protected areas that offer a long-term benefit for our oceans, only for the short-term gain for the industry.

For example, in 2014 and 2016, during the expansion efforts of the Pacific Remote Islands and Papahanaumokuakea monuments respectively, Wespac claimed that protecting these areas would result in millions of dollars of lost revenue across Hawaii’s seafood market. This, despite the fact that more than 90% of the fishing by the longline fleet was already happening outside of these areas.

The industry clearly doesn’t need more fish.

A recent scientific study published in Nature, points out that the monuments have not hurt the Hawaii longline fleet. To the contrary, both catch and catch-per-unit-efforts are higher since the monument expansions began. In fact, since quotas were implemented by the U.S. in 2009, the Hawaii longline fleet has caught its allocated quota early, long before the end of the fishing season.

Wespac argues that the monuments affect the productivity of the tuna canneries in American Samoa. However, the facts point out that the Samoa Starkist cannery has experienced negative economic impacts, not because vessels can’t fish in the marine monuments, but because trans-shipment and minimum wage issues have resulted in business shifting to Southeast Asia and elsewhere where labor is cheaper.

Unfortunately, Simonds and Chair Soliai’s May 8 letter to the Trump administration is pushing a policy that will provide little relief for an industry in need of meaningful solutions.

Fortunately, President Obama saw past these distractions and went forward with the expansions with overwhelming local support, and in turn protected sharks, whales, corals, birds, and many species that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

While Wespac and executive director Simonds will use the Trump executive order to continue their rallying cry to roll back fisheries management regulations and protections for monuments, their views are not widely shared.

To put it simply, Hawaii stakeholders overwhelmingly supported the establishment and expansions of the Pacific Remote Islands and Papahanaumokuakea monuments because the science tells us that marine protected areas are one of the best tools to protect ocean ecosystems, which in turn provides jobs, income, and food for our communities.

We urge the Trump administration to seek input from local stakeholders, reject the misguided claims of Wespac, and commit to a future of a resilient ocean that supports our unique way of life in the islands for generations to come.

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About the Authors

Rick Gaffney

Rick Gaffney is a fisherman, a lifetime resident of Hawaii and a former council member of Wespac. He has fished on or around all the Main Hawaiian Islands and previously managed the sport fishery at Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He has written extensively about techniques, destinations and the history of fishing in Hawaii and across the Pacific.

Julie Leialoha

Julie Leialoha has worked professionally in the natural resources management field since 1985 and has served on multiple boards including Wespac. Currently, she is a board member for the Mauna Kea Management Board and Conservation Council for Hawaii.


Latest Comments (0)

Good info, but how does the absence of a market conflate to being our President's fault?  Isn't Mr Ige more at fault for keeping tourists away, thus no large market?One would think this is a conservationists dream situation!  No fishing.

Ranger_MC · 3 months ago

Thank you for your service, and your voices. 

MarkS_OceanDem · 3 months ago

There is an ongoing investigation spearheaded by members of congress against Kitty Simonds and her spending of the "Sustainable Fisheries Fund." I'm eager to see how that turns out. Maybe just maybe this could be the end to her reign and destruction over Hawaii's oceans. Bravo to Rick and Julie for standing up!

OCEAN12 · 3 months ago

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