The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council had its 166th meeting last month on Saipan and Guam. While council actions were generally limited in scope – for example, requesting council staff to convey its sentiments to various federal agencies on a variety of matters – discussions during the course of the meeting revealed much about the general views of several individuals on the council on topics of critical importance when it comes to managing marine fisheries in an era of global climate change.
Climate Change Deniers
Hawai`i council member McGrew Rice is a charter boat captain based in Kona. During a discussion of the proposed expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Rice complained bitterly that there was no science to support the expansion. “We’re all here because the MSA” – the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act, which established the council framework – “says best scientific data available,” Rice said, referring to the standards that the MSA requires councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service to use when making their decisions.
Rice was one of several representatives from fishing, environmental, and governmental bodies who met recently in Honolulu with staff from the Council on Environmental Quality, which is to make a recommendation on the expansion to President Barack Obama. The monument was established by former President George H. Bush under the federal Antiquities Act, which has a different set of criteria for designation than that contained in the MSA.
“With the Antiquities Act, they’re about to destroy the MSA,” Rice said. “I was at the meeting with the CEQ, and it was tough for me to sit in on the meeting, giving facts to the CEQ and listening to them like it was already a done deal and they weren’t paying attention to the facts. Over the last couple of months, it seems to me that facts, science don’t matter.”
Yet when it comes to climate change, Rice, the professed defender of science, denied that it is real, while yet another council member, John Gourley, an environmental consultant from Saipan, seemed also to side with climate change deniers.
Those comments were made as the council was considering a recommendation from its own Marine Planning and Climate Change Committee. Sylvia Spalding, the council’s public information officer, had presented the committee’s report to the council. Among other things, Spalding said, the committee wanted to “make sure we’re making recommendations only for fisheries plans, not other things.” The committee went on to recommend “that the council present the issue of climate change in a straightforward, understandable, and not emotionally charged manner so as to enable discussion of the issues,” Spalding said, with a caveat: “So as not to whitewash climate change, acknowledge that the change is due to anthropogenic activities.”
As the council considered a motion to adopt the Marine Planning Committee’s report, Gourley said that this acknowledgement of an anthropogenic cause “eliminates discussion.”
“I want to delete that,” he said, arguing that by including the statement that climate change was caused by humans, “we’re becoming an advocate. If you’re going to enable discussion and look at factual matters, then why pick one side over the other? To enable a discussion in a factual matter means it is unbiased in the recommendation and the discussion goes on both sides.”
Rice agreed. “I don’t believe in climate change,” he said, supporting Gourley’s request to remove the statement from the motion.
Spalding attempted to defend the insertion, noting it was made at the request of a committee member from Guam and no other committee member objected to it. “My personal opinion,” she said, was that “human activities can be discussed since 97 percent of scientists say it is human activities driving climate change. I don’t see this as opposed to factual discussion.”
Kitty Simonds, the council’s longtime executive director, suggested deleting the language. “I don’t see that it adds anything,” she said. “Just delete that sentence. If members cannot agree to this, I don’t see how this adds anything. Just delete the sentence.”
The sentence was deleted.
Gourley weighed in once more on the subject of climate change, as the council considered recommendations from its Protected Species Advisory Committee.
One of those was for the council to support “robust scientific research” to evaluate threats to green sea turtle nesting habitat at French Frigate Shoals caused by rising sea levels.
Just when, exactly, would French Frigate Shoals be so inundated as to be unusable by turtles? Gourley asked Asuka Ishikawa, the council staff member presenting the committee’s recommendation.
“The worst-case scenario from the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change],” she replied, “projects two meters of sea level rise. At that level a majority of French Frigate Shoals is still above water. So that information exists and we submitted that in the council’s comments” on the proposed de-listing of the green sea turtle from its protected status under the Endangered Species Act – a request that the National Marine Fisheries Service denied.
Gourley then commented that he believed it was “weak to just use the IPII [sic] model, which has notoriously been – I’m searching for another word other than wrong. Flaky?”
The proposed expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument came up at several points in the council’s discussion at its June meeting.
In her report to the council, Simonds delivered “bad news:” “Corporate nongovernmental organizations and even our own government are devaluing our achievements,” she said, with the council being “held hostage by the Antiquities Act” and other laws.
The monument expansion proposal “is a huge grab,” she said, warning that the international high seas might be closed as well. “At the United Nations, there’s ongoing discussion of closures of the high seas. If that happens, our fishers will be limited to fishing in the Main Hawaiian Islands,” she said.
Paul Dalzell, the council’s senior staff scientist, then presented a slide show intended to bolster Simonds’ comments. The maximum depth of hooks set in the Hawai`i longline fishery, he said, was 400 meters – well above the height of even the highest seamount in the monument expansion area. “Seamounts in the monument are not like those in the Main Hawaiian Islands, such as Cross Seamount, which come to within 300 meters of the surface,” he said. Those in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands “are very deep,” he added, with fishing having “no possible physical impact to the seamounts and no impact to benthic resources … the impacts to these unique habitats from the longline fishery we evaluate as being very minimal.”
Council members raised yet another objection to the monument’s expansion. If U.S. vessels were kept out of the area, it would mean they would no longer be able to report incursions of foreign vessels into the U.S. Economic Exclusion Zone.
Mike Goto, council member from Hawai`i, asked William Pickering, head of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in Honolulu, how many times a fishing vessel had reported such an incursion.
“I can’t recall the last time we got any email, communication, whatever from a U.S. vessel reporting a foreign vessel fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” Pickering replied. “We and the Coast Guard watch center spend a lot of time watching foreign vessels outside the EEZ.” When foreign vessels pass through the EEZ with a steady, straight-track, there’s likely no fishing being done. “If a vessel turns off its VMS” – vessel monitoring system, allowing vessels to be tracked by satellite – “and then comes back on 200 miles the other side, that’s something we look at quickly,” he added.
“There’s no evidence in the past several years of any foreign vessel fishing inside the EEZ. We had a couple of U.S. ones fishing inside monument area, but as far as foreign vessels, can’t think of one over last several years.”
Despite repeated questioning, neither Pickering nor the U.S. Coast Guard’s representative, Lieutenant Commander Rula Deisher, could recall any occasion when a U.S. fishing vessel reported a foreign vessel incursion into the EEZ.
Nonetheless, the council formally voted to ask Pickering’s office and the Coast Guard to “determine the quantity and trends for U.S.-flagged vessels accurately reporting incursions by foreign vessels in the U.S. EEZ in the Western Pacific and provide a report to the council.” Once more, Pickering said the last case was probably in 2004. The motion was amended before passage – but only to remove the word “accurately.”
An ‘Abyssal Plain’
Council senior scientist Paul Dalzell and council chair Ed Ebisui gave a power-point presentation on the proposed expansion that, Ebisui said, had also been presented at this spring’s meeting of the Council Coordination Committee, a gathering of directors, staff, and National Marine Fisheries Service personnel from all of the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils held in May in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Dalzell stated that there was “an awful lot of hyperbole about what a marvelous place the abyssal plain of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is. And there are seamounts which are places of biodiversity. But the fishery has been operating for nearly 50 years. These places still look okay. But most of it is an abyssal plain of sand and mud.”
He put up a slide intending to show existing and even future threats to fishing in waters plied by the Hawai`i longliners.
“Already there are lots of closures,” he said, mentioning the existing monument; a zone south of the Main Hawaiian Islands called the southern zone, “if we catch more than the allotted number of false killer whales inside the Exclusive Economic Zone;” the closure of waters around Johnston atoll, Wake Island, Palmyra, Howland, and Baker islands. And although no longliner ever goes near the Mariana Trench monument, Dalzell included that as well in saying that “something like 97 percent of area closures in the United States are in our area.”
“Pew” – the Pew Charitable Trust, which has lobbied for marine protected areas for years – “has been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting anything done on the continental U.S. So they go where things are politically weakest – just two senators and a handful of congressmen,” Dalzell said. “Other states have many more congressmen, so they’re poised now to do the expansion here.”
Dalzell went on to raise the prospect of the United Nations exercising control over fishing on the high seas – “a serious proposition,” he said – which would push all fishing into the exclusive economic zone. “So,” he continued, imagine if we had such a high seas closure and we were unlucky that we got all false killer whale [takes] in one year inside the EEZ, and so the southern zone was closed for a year.”
Ebisui gave the council credit for what he described as its pioneering role in saving resources within the existing boundaries of the monument. “The current boundaries were actually the protected species zone that the council set in the early 1990s, so the fact that the monument designation used our protected species zone, overlaid its boundaries on that zone, is something of a validation, saying we did something that was very correct 15 years prior to designation of the monument,” he said.
“With the international movement to close the high seas to fishing,” Ebisui said, pointing to Dalzell’s map, “it will restrict our fishery to that little tiny corner there. The fishery won’t survive. …
“It’s incredible for the most oceanic state in the union to cut its own throat, which it is doing. At a time when we know that exports of fishery products to the United States are extensively using slave labor, as documented by the Associated Press, I can’t think of a moral reason for doing this. Slavery in the 21st century, how is that possible?
“One of the messages is, by encouraging imports, we are directly facilitating and engaging in IUU [illegal, unreported, and unregulated] fishing and slave labor.”
Other council members then weighed in with their thoughts on the monument expansion.
John Gourley: “I don’t want to be left out on the monument discussion. The truth is, the monuments have nothing to do with conservation. This allows one person, before the door slams on his back, before he leaves the White House, he can lock up these federal waters at no cost – no NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act review], no congressional oversight – to pay off the environmental community and set up his legacy.”
McGrew Rice: “From looking at the whole situation, Pew basically pays these people to lie to the public. … Pew doesn’t care what they say, just that they get it.”
William Sword: “Us in American Samoa, we just are very sad that we have certain people in the Hawaiian Islands that don’t treasure their traditions. Why would anybody in the Pacific, in their right mind, who’s depended for centuries on the ocean, give it up to anybody? American Samoa is very afraid … we’re next. The domino effect. These guys will run all over us because we don’t have people willing to stand up to these stupid people.”
* * *
Bigeye Catch Rates
On the Rise
“It’s surprising to me that the Hawai`i longline bieye tuna catch rates are larger than last year,” Mike Goto told the council in his contribution to the discussion about Hawai`i issues. Goto, a council member from Hawai`i, works at United Fishing Agency, the Honolulu fish auction house.
Last year, the longline fishery was shut down for a couple of months after it reached its annual quota of 3,554 metric tons of bigeye set by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. The fishery was able to reopen only after NMFS promulgated a rule allowing the U.S. territories to sell a portion of the quota that the United States argues the territories have to the longline fleet.
The record catch of bigeye in 2015, Goto noted, was attributed to the warmer ocean temperatures associated with El Niño. Longliners were expecting “a kind of crash this year after last year’s abundance, but that has not happened.”
Mike Seki, director of NMFS’ Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, noted in his report that the current catch was ahead of last year’s pace. At the time he spoke, on June 10, the reported catch stood at 2,989 tons. “That puts us pretty much well on our way to hitting our quota earlier,” he said. “At this pace, we’re [catching bigeye] even faster than we did last year, which was itself a record pace.”
The catch-per-unit effort – the number of fish caught per hooks set – was very high, he continued. As to when the limit might be hit this year, Seki said the worst-case scenario was “we would hit the mark on July 22.”
After the U.S. quota is reached, it is possible, under Amendment 7 to the council’s pelagic fishery management plan, to begin to attribute further bigeye catches to the quotas of U.S. territories. That can only happen, however, if NMFS publishes notice and if the territories come to an agreement with the Hawai`i Longline Association on the amount HLA will pay for the one half of the territorial allotment of 2,000 metric tons.
Seki said his staff was looking at what happens under a scenario with the longliners fishing under one or even two additional territorial allotments. The forecast, he said, “comes very close to hitting the 5,500 metric ton mark if we have two allocations in place. We may not make it to the end of the year.”
Goto said that this was creating a dilemma for HLA. “Depending on when allocations are made, the association might want to reserve it till the end of the year,” he said.
As of late June, the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office website indicted that 88 percent, or 3,115 metric tons, of the 3,554 mt quota for bigeye caught in the Western Pacific had already been taken. The estimated date when the quota would be hit was posted as August 11.
PIRO administrator Mike Tosatto was asked about progress toward getting the notice of quota transfer published in the Federal Register. “It’s moving as quickly as it can,” he replied. “Remember that it has to go out as a proposed rule. We take comments on that, deal with the comments, and then put out a final specification. The goal is to get it out ahead of the need to close the fishery so we don’t have what we had last year.”
* * *
Simonds Eyes Fines
For Illegal Fishing
“What about the $49,000 fine? Is American Samoa going to be able to share in that?”
Kitty Simonds posed the question to William Pickering, chief law enforcement agent for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency in the Pacific. That is the fine that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s General Counsel Enforcement Section has levied on a 70-foot longline vessel for fishing illegally inside the boundaries of the Rose Atoll National Marine Monument. The vessel, Fetuolemoana, is based in Pago Pago.
Pickering responded that he had nothing to do with disposition of the fine. “It is no longer in our wheelhouse,” he said.
To which Simonds responded, “I’m just concerned that the funds will go to the sanctuary program and nothing to the American Samoa government.”
Another case reported by Pickering concerned the grounding in mid-April of a longline fishing vessel, the 61-foot-long No. 1 Ji Hyun, off the island of Aunu`u in waters of the American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.
Pickering stated in his report that although the corporation that owns the vessel has a U.S. citizen as its CEO, “[i]nvestigation has shown that a foreign national had control over the vessel at the time of grounding and that the American Samoa government hired the vessel for shipping, an activity in which the vessel is not endorsed or permitted to engage in under” Coast Guard regulations.
The fishing vessel had been chartered by the American Samoa Power Authority to carry fuel, solar panels, and other supplies to the island of Manu`a. The utility’s CEO, Utu Abe Malae, was quoted in the Samoa News as saying that all the cargo was salvaged except for black cinders, which had been used as ballast, and pallets of cement. He also told the paper that the cement was left on board deliberately to weigh down the boat and prevent it from being carried further toward shore. “We have to be careful with the black cinders because we were told by the coral reef people that the cinders can damage coral,” he was reported to have said.
Council member William Sword, representing American Samoa, said that the bags of cement have now hardened, making their removal all the more difficult.
The Coast Guard hired a salvage firm to remove fuel at a cost of around $150,000, it said. Further efforts to remove the vessel are being handled by the sanctuary and the American Samoa government.
American Samoa council member Claire Poumele, port administrator for the territory, noted that there were now two grounded vessels on island reefs. In addition to the Ji Huyn, the Sea Hawk #68, a Taiwanese longliner, has been stuck on the reef near the main airport for more than a year.
The vessel owner filed for bankruptcy soon after the grounding. With the Sea Hawk a total loss, there are no responsible parties or assets to go after to pay for removal efforts. “We have a law regarding derelicts,” Poumele said, “but no funds to support it.”
* * *
Aid to Aha Moku Committee
Credit for the formation of the state Aha Moku Advisory Committee (AMAC) can be laid almost entirely at the door of Kitty Simonds and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. As described in several articles published in Environment Hawai`i and other sources, Wespac convened and financially sponsored the puwalu that preceded legislative action, in 2012, that gave AMAC formal standing in the eyes of the state and placed it under the administration of the Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Wespac staffer Charles Kaaiai gave the council a brief update on the status of the Aha Moku committee. “We have supported this since 2006,” he said. “They [the committee] have been trying to meet since then. It has not met for over a year. They haven’t developed rules.”
“Now,” he continued, “laws regarding boards and commissions are beginning to kick in. …. Members serve four years and then their term ends. Right now, the committee is very vulnerable. The governor has the opportunity to select who will be on the committee.”
He noted that the Aha Moku committee had received no appropriation from the Legislature. “Because the council supported this,” he said, “we will be looking at ways we can assist in making this committee work. At this point, though, they look very vulnerable.”
In fact, however, the committee met on June 23 and adopted a resolution praising Gov. David Ige and his administration for “their support and effort to keep the Aha Moku alive.” (The state Department of the Attorney General had agreed to use a portion of the settlement over 2013’s devastating molasses spill on O`ahu to fund the committee for the next fiscal year.) The committee was also scheduled that day to approve draft administrative rules, which had gone out for public hearing late last year.
— Patricia Tummons
Volume 27, Number 1 July 2016