WESTPAC Calls For End To Monument, Sanctuary Fishing Restrictions

Management of U.S. fishery doesn't require special designations

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 14, 2017) – The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has requested that the federal government consider reviewing the continued need for existing monument and sanctuary fishing restrictions, given the availability of federal regulations which manage fisheries in the US Pacific Islands.

The request was made in a recent letter signed by Council Chairman Edwin A. Ebisui Jr., and Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds to US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross, with copies of the letter sent to President Trump, leaders of two federal departments, and Governors of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The letter claims that the establishment of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments (MNM), under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) and the Antiquities Act, “are being hard-pressed by environmental activist groups to displace processes” under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) “that provide for the sustainable use of fishery resources while conserving vital marine resources.”

The letter addresses the Council’s concerns with overlaying of marine sanctuaries on marine monuments; for example, the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (MNM) which was established with three units in January 2009. Last year, a request was made to designate a national marine sanctuary over the Marianas Trench.

According to the letter, the overlaying of marine sanctuaries on marine monuments appears to be a new strategy for advocates looking to restrict fishing outside of the MSA process.

It also says that in 2012, the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa expanded from its 0.25 square mile area into the 13,581 square-mile National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

“The sanctuary now engulfs nearly 10% of the US EEZ around the Territory, including an overlay of the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, which itself was an overlay on the Council-established Large Vessel Prohibited Area” in waters of American Samoa, the letter points out.

A third potential sanctuary overlay has been directed through the 2016 proclamation issued by then President Obama expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument - an overlay of the Council’s Protected Species Zone.

The letter points to provisions of the MSA which state that "conservation and management measures shall, where practicable, minimize costs and avoid unnecessary duplication."

Ebisui and Simonds say the “Council is alarmed by the recent and proposed expansions of sanctuaries and monuments that marginalize the MSA and the regional fishery management councils.” (There are 8 regional councils in the US as established by Congress.)

“Overlaying sanctuaries on existing monuments increases regulatory burdens on commercial and non-commercial fisheries without providing any additional conservation benefits,” the letter says.

“Sanctuaries and marine monuments eliminate access to US waters to US fishermen. These closures are not consistent with the MSA National Standards, which are principles followed by the regional fishery management councils and NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) to ensure sustainable and responsible fishery management.”

Such standards, according to the letter, include the use of best scientific information available to prevent overfishing, while allowing US fisheries to achieve optimal yield for the benefit of the Nation and local communities.

The Council has asked Wilbur to consider halting the process of overlaying sanctuaries on monuments in the Marianas Trench and Papahanaumokuakea in Hawaii and its expansion area.

Additionally, “consider reviewing the continued need for existing monument and sanctuary fishing restrictions, given the availability of MSA regulations to manage fisheries in the US Pacific Islands.”

Wilbur was reminded by the Council that MSA regulations to manage fisheries in the monument and sanctuary areas in the Western Pacific Region are still in the US Code of Federal Regulations to ensure conservation and management of fisheries, habitat, and protected species while helping to address the US seafood trade deficit.

The Council’s letter to Wilbur was issued before Trump issued an Executive Order late last month calling for the review of designated land and ocean monuments in the US and its territories — including American Samoa — made since 1996 by previous US Presidents.

The Samoa News
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