Feds Seek Input From Fishery Councils On Climate Crisis, Conservation Goals

posted in: April 2021 | 0

“We know in many places of the country, our fisheries are being affected by climate change,” Sam Rauch, NOAA’s deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs told the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) last month. 

Fish stocks are moving from traditional fishing grounds; maybe new stocks move in, maybe not, he continued, adding that ocean acidification can affect shellfish communities.

“Dealing with these difficult issues is not something you can do in a vacuum,” he said.

Recognizing that, President Joe Biden on January 27 signed executive order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” The order calls on the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the heads of various departments and agencies, to submit a report to the newly created National Climate Task Force this month recommending steps “to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” 

Those steps would be taken, “working with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders,” the order states.

The order also tasked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with collecting input from “fishermen, regional ocean councils, fishery management councils, scientists, and other stakeholders on how to make fisheries and protected resources more resilient to climate change, including changes in management and conservation measures, and improvements in science, monitoring, and cooperative research.”

On March 3, NOAA published an item in the Federal Register seeking public comment on this directive. Responses had to be received by April 2.

With regard to the “30 X 30” goal, the Council Coordinating Committee, composed of all of the heads of the nation’s regional fishery management councils, sent a letter to the secretaries of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce, arguing that that goal has already been met.

“[W]e submit that the MSA [Magnuson-Stevens Act] and its implementation through the RFMC [regional fishery management council] process, as a measure of progress, already conserves and protects more that 30 percent of marine fishery resources and habitats. The MSA not only works well but is the gold standard worldwide for sustainable fishery conservation programs,” the committee wrote.

“Should any additional needs for conservation of marine fishery resources be identified as part of the process of implementing this EO, they should be authorized only through the robust, open public process established by the MSA,” it continued.

Rauch noted that the order does not define “conserving” and that he expects the Department of the Interior will at some point provide guidance on what it means and how much of the land and water is currently conserved. 

Council chair Archie Soliai suggested that more than 50 percent of the country’s waters were already conserved in the marine national monuments, which total nearly 760 million acres. Those in the Pacific account for all but 3.1 million acres of that.

“It is not at all clear that Interior is going to adopt that definition nor if that is what is meant by conserving,” Rauch said.

Council member John Gourley expressed his concern about how that term will ultimately be defined. “I know there’s a lot of people who want no take. … I think that would defeat the purpose of conservation actually,” he said.

Council member Ed Watamura noted that the state’s similar initiative, Holomua: Marine 30 X 30, does not seek to simply protect 30 percent of marine waters in the Main Hawaiian Islands from all forms of fishing. Rather, it calls for 30 percent of nearshore waters in the Main Hawaiian Islands to be included in some kind marine management area (MMA). 

Currently, only 6 percent of those waters are included in one of the state’s various types of marine management areas (i.e., marine life conservation district, community-based fishing area, or fish replenishment area).

“Each MMA has its own set of rules which may include fishing regulations, such as restrictions on gear type, size and catch limits, or take of particular species. Rules may also

limit or prohibit other activities, such as ocean-based tours, anchoring, vessel transit, and other recreational, commercial, or extractive activities,” states the Department of Land and Natural Resources website on the program.

With regard to the national initiative, Gourley asked, “If the 30 X 30 is to be done on a regional basis … perhaps we can ask to rescind some of the monuments so we can meet the goal of the legislation?” He added, “Of course, I’m being silly.”

“You can always ask the question because why should the little dots on the map” — the Pacific Islands — “carry the burden?” Simonds replied.

She said the executive directors for all of the fishery councils are “looking at the entire U.S. picture and reviewing reports put out by different agencies about MPAs and closures. The enviros are going to be calling for no fishing. … We shouldn’t close fishing to everybody. We’re working on something so that at our May meeting, we’ll probably have a lot to share.”

She also noted that the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) had established a working group to develop recommendations in response to the executive order. The group’s members include Ray Hilborn, Don Kobayashi, Frank Camacho, Erik Franklin, Milani Chaloupka, and Jim Lynch.

Simonds added that her office had submitted draft comment letters to Wespac’s executive committee, but that none were ready for review by the full council. “What we are describing are all of our ecosystem work beginning in the ‘90s with the coral reef ecosystem plan. … After the council’s discussion, we have to add a few other facts,” she said, adding that her office will send out a second letter “depending on what the SSC working group comes up with.”

Perhaps based on Gourley’s joke about removing some of the Pacific marine national monuments, the council later voted to have the National Marine Fisheries Service ask the Biden administration to remove the fishing restrictions in the Pacific Remote Islands monument. It was not on the agenda as an action item. 

At 314 million acres, it is the second largest marine national monument. Papahanaumokuakea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is the largest.

Measures To Protect Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The Western and Central Pacific stock of the oceanic whitetip shark, federally listed as threatened, is considered to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. Last month Wespac voted to recommend that the Hawaiʻi longline fleet eliminate the use of wire leaders, which are intended to weigh branch lines down to keep gear from flying back and injuring crew members. 

By getting rid of the wire leaders, it’s expected that incidentally hooked sharks will be able to bite through the monofilament fishing lines and swim free with less trailing gear, which will increase their likelihood of survival.

The recommendation supports an initiative announced by the Hawaiʻi Longline Association (HLA) to end the use of wire leaders, a move that the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ocean Foundation, and Earthjustice support.

The council also recommended that Pacific Islands Regional Office of NMFS, as well as its own staff, provide support to the HLA’s efforts to train captains and crew on proper shark handling and gear

“The biggest gains will be in the international arena,” HLA’s executive director Eric Kingma told the council’s SSC, noting that the U.S. fishery’s take of the sharks accounts for only a small percentage of what’s taken in the Western and Central Pacific.

The council voted to ask the State Department and NMFS to seek to increase the observer coverage rate in foreign fleets in the region to 10 percent, up from the 5 percent required by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and to require the use of electronic monitoring. HLA, Pew, and the Ocean Foundation had recommended the observer coverage rate be increased to 20 percent.

The council had also asked the department to “advance the reduction of wire leader usage and the use of circle hooks in the international longline fisheries as important steps to reduce fishing mortality,” and to promote binding, international handling measures.

— Teresa Dawson

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