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Fisheries council recommends 30-mile buffer

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, March 20, 2008) - The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to establish a 30-nautical mile exclusion zone for longline fishing around the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and this will soon become federal law.

This means that longline fishing can only be conducted outside this area, which is within the 200-nautical mile U.S. exclusive economic zone. This was the same recommendation of the council when it met in October last year, according to staff member Jared Makaiau.

The recommendation will be submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Fishery Service for its approval.

The fishery council started its 140th meeting at the Fiesta Resort & Spa yesterday with the CNMI’s three advisory committees. The meeting was vital for the formulation of federal law on long-line and purse-seine fishing and was presided by council chairman Sean Martin.

[PIR editor’s note: Longline fishing has raised concerns in Hawaii, where conservationists in 1999 successfully sued the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect endangered turtles and other species frequently snagged by the indiscriminate fishing method. The method employs hundreds of miles of floating lines, each carrying numerous hooks. A federal judge essentially banned longline swordfishing in a fast area north of Hawaii but allowed longline tuna fishing in designated areas well away from the turtles’ migratory path.]

The Marianas advisory panel was composed of local fishermen, the Marianas plan team comprised Division of Fish and Wildlife officials and staff, while the Marianas Regional Eco-System Advisory Council includes all CNMI government agencies.

The Hawai΄i-based fishery council wants to balance the needs and concerns of locally based fishing with the development of larger-scale longline fisheries around the Marianas waters.

The intent of recommending the 30-nautical mile closed area is to avoid potential gear conflicts and catch competition between longline fishing and the CNMI’s small boat fishing fleet.

There was a recommendation to follow Guam’s current 50-nautical mile closed area that was said to favor local fishermen using trolling methods, but some said this will mean higher fuel costs for prospective long-line fishermen.

Long-line fishing is a growing interest among U.S. and foreign companies but no exclusion zone for this fishing method exists in the CNMI.

It was concluded in the past council meeting that the lack of regulation for long-line fishing allows vessels to operate within waters close to the CNMI where troll fleet operates, and this could result in a competition for target species and gear conflicts between locally based fishing and industry fishing.

Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Ignacio Dela Cruz and Republican Party Precinct 4 chairman Benigno Sablan are among the fishery council members.

Sablan is a former DLNR secretary.

The council’s CNMI coordinator is Jack Ogumoro.

The council invited Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, R-Saipan, as guest speaker yesterday.

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