Final Bigeye Rule: The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a final rule to implement a quota on bigeye tuna caught in the western Pacific by the Hawai`i longline fleet. The rule, published in the December 7, 2009, Federal Register, took effect December 12. By sheer coincidence, that was also the day on which the service expected to give longliners the required seven-day notice in advance of the quota (3,763 metric tons) being reached and the fishery closed for the year.
As reported in the December issue of Environment Hawai`i, the quota is needed to put into effect conservation measures for the bigeye adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
The rule does not sanction the charter agreement between the Hawai`i Longline Association and American Samoa, which was entered into in an apparent effort to nullify the effects of any quota. Instead, it states that the legitimacy of such charter arrangements will be dealt with as NMFS reviews the amendment to the pelagic Fishery Management Plan proposed by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council that would allow chartering arrangements with the U.S.-flagged territories in the Pacific.
Longliners with a Hawai`i permit that catch bigeye outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone around Hawai`i can get around the quota by landing the bigeye in American Samoa, Guam, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Also, any longliner that holds both a Hawai`i longline permit and an American Samoa longline permit can continue to land bigeye in Honolulu after the quota is reached, provided that the bigeye are caught outside the Hawai`i EEZ. According to NMFS’ Honolulu office, there are 11 longliners that hold both American Samoa permits and Hawai`i permits.
Swordfish Rule Challenged: Just days after the National Marine Fisheries Service issued another rule – this one concerning the longline fishery targeting swordfish – a coalition of conservation groups sued the agency in federal district court in Honolulu. The lawsuit, brought by the Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, argues that the new rule, which removes prior limits on the number of sets the fishery could make each year, puts loggerhead turtles in increasing danger of extinction.
The new rule allows the swordfish fishery to catch up to 46 loggerhead turtles annually, up from the previous limit of 17.
Paul Achitoff, attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs, stated, “The agency is once again pandering to Wespac’s insatiable appetite for short-term profits, disregarding the law in favor of maximizing swordfish catch.” NMFS rule change followed the advice of the Wespac, which had long objected to limits on the swordfish fleet’s efforts.
The prior limit on the catch of leatherback turtles – 16 per year – still stands. Should the swordfish fishery reach either limit, the fishery would be closed for the remainder of the year.
New Plans for Forest Reserves: For the first time in more than 30 years, the state has adopted new management plans for its forest reserves. On November 19, the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved management plans for the Na Pali-Kona (23,013 acres) and Pu`u Ka Pele (23,600 acres) forest reserves on Kaua`i and the Moloka`i Forest Reserve (11,690 acres).
According to a report to the board by the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the state intermittently developed management plans for its forest reserves from the early 1900s to the 1970s, when it ceased adopting new plans “for undocumented reasons.” But in 2008, DOFAW reinitiated its efforts to develop and update plans for all of the state’s 52 forest reserves to organize management and improve funding prospects, among other things.