In the months after President Obama expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, catches by commercial longliners didn’t seem to suffer at all. The deep-set longline fleet caught about the same amount of bigeye tuna as it had in the first half of last year. And, as in past years, the fishery met its annual bigeye catch limit for the Western and Central Pacific, as well as its large-vessel catch limit for the Eastern Pacific, well before the end of the year.
What’s more, swordfish catches by shallow-set longline vessels in the first six months of this year were significantly higher than they were last year, according to Russell Ito of the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center. This despite arguments made last year by expansion opponents that fishers targeting swordfish might suffer more than those targeting bigeye tuna if they were purged from the exclusive economic zone around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, since they historically spent more time there.
The increase in swordfish catch was likely due to a change in climatic conditions, Ito told the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) last month. With last year’s strong El Niño conditions, “we saw a reduced shallow-set effort last year,” he said, adding that this year’s La Niña conditions are favorable for shallow-set fishing.
There were 200 more shallow sets this year than last year and 430 fewer deep sets in the first half of this year compared to the previous year, he said.
“It’s interesting … We really didn’t see a decrease in catch with the monument closure,” he said.
The Pacific Remote Island Areas monument expansion in 2014 also didn’t prevent the Hawai‘i longline fleet from meeting its Western and Central Pacific bigeye tuna quota early. However, in a leaked memo made public earlier this year, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended reopening the monument to commercial fishing.
Whether or not the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and/or its expansion area will lose any of its protections as a result of reviews ordered by President Trump for national monuments larger than 100,000 acres remains to be seen. Zinke’s memo recommended modifications to all marine national monuments except the Papahanaumokuakea and Marianas Trench monuments.
— Teresa Dawson