The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a change in fishing regulations that would make permanent what has been a year-to-year rule allowing Hawai`i-based longliners to exceed the annual catch limits on bigeye tuna imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Bigeye are already subject to overfishing pressure; the catch limits are supposed to reduce that pressure and help the stock rebuild.
As Environment Hawai`i has reported (in our current issue as well as several past issues), as soon as the longline fleet begins to approach its 3,763-metric ton limit on bigeye, NMFS starts to attribute the bigeye haul from boats belonging to the Hawai`i Longline Association to one or another of the U.S.-flagged territories in the Pacific. Thanks to a provision inserted into federal law in 2011 and renewed in subsequent years, under these so-called charter arrangements, up to 5,000 metric tons a year of bigeye caught by HLA members can be charged against the territories’ virtually unlimited catch.
The territorial charter arrangements do not require that the participating boats catch the bigeye inside territorial waters. Nor do they require that the boats take on residents of the territories as crew members, purchase provisions in the territories, or land their catch in territorial ports. The only thing NMFS does require is that none of the fish attributed to the territorial catch be taken inside the exclusive economic zone around Hawai`i.
The new rule that NMFS proposed on December 30 would amend the pelagic fishery management plan of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) to allow for the indefinite continuation of such arrangements. Comments are due by February 28.