Obama Monument Announcement Disappoints Pacific Fishery Council

"Serves a political legacy rather than any conservation benefits', Council highlights two alternative plans offered by them that were rejected

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 29, 2016) – The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has expressed its disappointment with the announcement that President Obama will expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to the full extent of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (out to 200 miles from shore) to encompass a total 582,578 square miles around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

“We do not believe the expansion is based on the best available scientific information,” said Kitty Simonds, council executive director. “It serves a political legacy rather than any conservation benefits to pelagic species such as tunas, billfish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. The campaign to expand the monument was organized by a multibillion dollar, agenda-driven environmental organization that has preyed upon the public’s lack of understanding of ocean resource management issues and utilized influential native Hawaiians and several high-level politicians to lead this initiative. Our government has chosen to follow the Pew’s Ocean Legacy.”

The council earlier provided Obama with two options for monument expansion that would have achieved the protection and legacy objectives that the proponents were seeking while also minimizing impacts to the Hawaii longline fishery and local seafood production. “The president obviously chose not to balance the interests of Hawaii’s community, which has been divided on this issue,” Simonds said.

“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said council chair Edwin Ebiusi Jr. “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.” Fisheries are the state’s top food producer, according the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

The expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea monument is the fourth time a U.S. president has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create or expand a marine national monument. All four of the U.S. marine national monuments are in the U.S. Pacific Islands.

“Our islands are populated by minority ethnicities,” Simonds said. “We have little representation in Congress and are located 5,000 to 8,000 miles from nation’s capital. Placing all of the marine monuments in our waters is a conservation burden to U.S. Pacific Islanders and a is a socioenvironmental injustice, especially as we rely on the oceans for fresh fish that is our culture and our tradition.”

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