The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has directed the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) to investigate the extent to which federal grant funds might have been misused by council staff members involved in preparing the pending petition to remove the Hawaiian green sea turtle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
In 2007, the Maunalua Hawaiian Civic Club introduced a proposal to delist the Hawaiian green sea turtle to the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Wespac executive director Kitty Simonds founded and is president of the Maunalua club and council staffers Charles Ka`ai`ai and Mark Mitsuyasu also sit on the club’s board of directors.
In a July 11 letter, U.S. Rep. Gregorio Sablan asked National Marine Fisheries Service assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Kathryn Sullivan for an update on NOAA’s investigation into allegations that Wespac staff had prepared the petition, submitted to NMFS in February 2012 by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Sablan represents the Northern Mariana Islands and is the ranking minority member of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs.
In an August 6 letter, Sobeck responded that NOAA’s Grants Management Division (GMD) had informed Wespac that the preparation of the petition by council staff “did not comply with the terms and conditions of its Federal Assistance Award and the Council must immediately implement remedial measures.” Wespac receives all of its funding in the form of government grants.
Sobeck continued that Wespac must provide details to GMD “describing by who within the Council, where, and when the petition was drafted, and the circumstances surrounding the decision to draft and edit the petition as well as provide an estimate of the costs associated with the petition. Further, the Council should impose disciplinary measures upon those Council staff members who have misused award funds. Based on the response from the Council regarding these items, NOAA will determine whether additional action is needed.”
Wespac Opinion Piece Fuels
Controversy Over Shark Fishing
In addition to the turtle petition, Sablan expressed his concerns about a pro-shark fishing opinion piece published in Marianas Variety on March 28, in which Wespac senior scientist Paul Dalzell was identified as a representative of NOAA.
At Wespac’s March meeting, held in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the council entertained the idea of establishing a fishery on sharks as a way to reduce depredation on the catch of fishermen in those areas. It also directed its staff to facilitate a resolution of the apparent conflict between federal regulations that allow fishermen to catch sharks and local regulations – such as those in the CNMI, Guam and Hawai`i – that prohibit the possession of shark fins and, therefore, appear to prohibit the landing of sharks.
“[S]hark catches may contribute to optimum yield as required by the [Magnuson-Stevens Act] for federally managed fisheries. In the Marianas, most fishery resources, including pelagic shark stocks are grossly under-utilized,” Dalzell wrote.
“One of the byproducts of the build of fishery resources within the U.S. EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] around the archipelago is the high prevalence of shark depredation of fishermen’s catches. … Ultimately, fishing for sharks may provide some relief for small boat fishermen from the chronic depredation by sharks,” he wrote.
Sablan was outraged.
“To be perfectly clear: promotion of shark fishing in this case means promotion of shark finning,” he wrote Sobeck. He went on to note that one of Wespac’s own scientists has stated that selling shark fins is crucial to the economic feasibility of any shark fishery.
“Encouraging the development of fisheries that would violate state laws and perpetuate the global trade in shark fins is irresponsible and undermines international shark conservation efforts,” Sablan wrote, adding that worldwide shark populations are estimated to have decreased by as much as 80 percent, largely due to the demand for fins.
Sablan bemoaned what he described as Wespac’s “apparent disregard for local interest, scientifically sound management decisions, and NOAA policy,” and asked that NOAA clarify whether Dalzell’s piece reflects NOAA policy.
In her response, Sobeck explained that the newspaper had incorrectly identified Dalzell as a NOAA employee and that his letter “clearly states that he is representing the positions of the Council.”
Although she did not speak to the idea of establishing a shark fishery, she did state that shark depredation is a chronic problem in the Marianas and is a priority research area for the NMFS. She added that NOAA is also working with states and territories to better understand how their laws interact with the federal Shark Conservation Act.
Bigeye Are Overfished
It seemed inevitable and now it’s finally happened: Bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific are officially overfished. According to the most recent stock assessment, presented at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC) Scientific Committee meeting last month in Majuro, Marshall Islands, the bigeye stock is now 16 percent of its size before fishing pressure and its spawning potential is likely at or below the minimum sustainable level set by the commission.
The new data have spurred Greenpeace and other organizations to call for a year-long ban on the use of fish aggregating devices, used largely by purse seiners. The finding has also fueled the growing demand by commission member countries that the governments of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China provide data on the catch of their fleets.
Member nations are required by the commission’s convention to provide accurate catch data, necessary to develop accurate, reliable stock assessments. Tiga Galo of the Tokelau fisheries department reminded members of the requirement, saying “One of the obligations that all members signed up to when they joined the WCPFC was to provide full catch and effort data. … Yet here we are 10 years down the track, and there are still four Asian (members) that are hiding behind the temporary deferment that allowed time to amend their domestic regulations – laws that might technically prevent them from supplying this operational data.”
Since 2008, the WCPFC has been trying to get its member nations to end overfishing of bigeye by placing caps on their catch and limiting the use of fish aggregating devices. The commission is scheduled to meet in Samoa in December to discuss its conservation and management measures regarding the use of fish aggregating devices.
Volume 25, Number 3 September 2014