Monday, May 21, 2012

Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WRPFMC - WESPAC)

Where do I begin?

How about starting with what Fisheries Councils are set up to do … let’s look at the federal law.

WESPAC is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The Regional Council system was designed to allow regional, participatory governance by knowledgeable people with a stake in fishery management.

The eight Regional Councils develop management plans for marine fisheries in waters seaward of state waters of their individual regions.

Plans and specific management measures (such as fishing seasons, quotas and closed areas) are developed.  These plans and measures are implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC) is composed of 16-members members and is the policy-making organization for the management of fisheries in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ - generally 3- to 200-miles offshore) of member US interests.

Management includes areas around the State of Hawai‘i, Territory of American Samoa, Territory of Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and US Pacific island possessions, an area of nearly 1.5 million square miles.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the guiding document for fisheries management actions.  In it are “National Standards.”

The first National Standard states that any fishery management plan, its rules, and conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing.

I am very concerned about purported "management" of our marine resources - particularly, the stated goal of "sustainable fishery management plans" that have proven to be insufficient to sustain the fisheries.

Over the recent years, here's what's happening with some of the managed species under the management plans of WESPAC:
  • Big Eye Tuna - NOAA Fisheries announced in June 2004 that overfishing was occurring – it continues
  • Yellowfin Tuna - The 2006 assessment results indicated overfishing is occurring – it continues
  • NWHI lobster fishery - NOAA Fisheries declared an emergency closure in 2000
  • North Pacific albacore - the stock is considered fully exploited
  • Southwest Pacific Swordfish - Since 1997, catch rates and mean size have been declining
  • Striped Marlin in the Southwest Pacific - levels of fishing mortality may exceed the maximum sustainable yield
  • Bottomfish - In May 2005, NOAA Fisheries determined that over-fishing is occurring in the Main Hawaiian Islands – it continues
  • Black Coral - Due to the reduction in large colonies the minimum size of harvested colonies was raised
  • Swordfish - NOAA periodically halted longline in 2006 and 2011 because of too many endangered sea turtle interactions

 (Overfishing means the rate at which a species is being harvested is greater than it can sustain itself.)

Again, the law says, “Conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry.”

Obviously, this hasn’t been working and we need to do things differently.

The decline in marine resources has an enormous impact on local, subsistence and recreational fishermen, and coastal fishing communities statewide.

I was honored to serve as a member of WESPAC - initially, as a representative for the State of Hawai‘i, then, a term as an at-large member on the Council.

However, I was mostly frustrated while serving - too often, it looked like decisions were made for the benefit of short-term fish harvesting, rather than long-term fisheries sustainability.

I hope in the future WESPAC more-fully addresses its obligations and opportunities to prevent overfishing and protect the resources for future generations.

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