Restricted Fishing Near Pacific Monuments Raises Concerns

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Conservation group claims rules possibly ‘ripe for abuse’

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 21, 2013) – A conservation group has voiced some concerns to proposed rules by the federal government to provisions that deal with restricted fishing for the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine national monuments.

These proposed new rules and regulations are being made by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) - Pacific Islands Region.

Robert Mazurek, manager of Global Ocean Legacy and Pew Charitable Trusts, informed NMFS that among the new proposed rules is that NOAA would allow "customary exchange" in noncommercial fisheries in the three monuments to "help preserve traditional, indigenous, and cultural fishing practices."

This new rule defines customary exchange as "the non-market exchange of marine resources between fishermen and community residents for goods, and/or services for cultural, social, or religious reasons, and which may include cost recovery through monetary reimbursements and other means for actual trip expenses (ice, bait, food, or fuel) that may be necessary to participate in fisheries in the western Pacific."

Under this proposed rule, that Mazurek said "could be ripe for abuse," NOAA has added a residency requirement "to ensure that customary exchange does not provide a toehold for commercial fishing," which is prohibited by the Proclamations that established these monuments.

According to the proposed rule, fishermen who are community residents of American Samoa may fish in Rose Atoll, while those who wish to fish in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Monument must be community residents of Guam or CNMI.

Mazurek said the proposed rule goes on to extend this residency requirement to charter businesses, which must also meet this community residency requirement.

"However, we feel charter boats have no place in these protected areas and they go against the spirit and intent of the proclamation for the establishment of the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Monument and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments," he said and noted that charter boat fishing is defined as commercial and there is nothing customary or traditional about it.

"Moreover, we feel that without chain-of-custody for fish caught within" these two monuments the definition of "customary exchange" should be amended to explicitly state that no "monetary exchange" can occur at any level in association with any fish caught in either monument, he said.

As the proposed rule stands, there is nothing preventing a federally-permitted traditional, indigenous, or recreational fisher from "selling" or bartering (for cost recovery) or giving away his or her catch to a friend or relative, who can then "resell" it on the open market, thus potentially receiving substantial monetary gain, beyond the costs associated with the trip, he said.

He also said that the organization feels there should be catch limits on all fishing—be it traditional, indigenous, or recreational—in the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Monuments, and in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Monument.

"These limits should be based on biological perimeters specified in a comprehensive fisheries ecosystem plan (FEP) and be based on a precautionary approach when biological data is limited," he said.

Another proposed rule states that anyone going to the monument to fish will need to apply for a new federal permit and complete a logbook for each trip. "We strongly endorse the need for this new permit and the corresponding reporting of catch," he concluded.

Complete text of the proposed rule change as well as comments filed are available at the federal portal

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