The Western and Central Pacific Fishery Council has recommended setting a 2023 catch limit of 2,000 metric tons of bigeye tuna each for Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa.
“Each U.S participating territory would have a transfer limit up to 1,500 mt to Hawaii-based U.S longline vessels operating under approved specified fishing agreements with the territories. Total transfers would be limited to 3,000 mt,” the council said.
The WCPFC requested the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Council for Environmental Quality to adopt the definition for “conservation area” proposed by the Council Coordination Committee (CCC) area-based management subcommittee to identify qualifying regions in President Biden’s “30×30” initiative.
The CCC represents the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils in the nation.
“The council has a golden opportunity to support what the CCC has done, and help NOAA and the CEQ move forward with a sensible and fair definition of conservation that not only includes provisions to protect biodiversity, but also promotes wise use of fisheries,” said Will Sword, council vice chair from American Samoa.
The council recommends that CEQ follow the guidelines set by the National Environmental Protection Act when implementing “America the Beautiful” and consult state and territorial governors affected by new conservation areas.
The council said the Western Pacific region has met 97% of the “30×30” goal to conserve 30% of all U.S lands and waters by 2030 with its existing marine managed areas.
The council also asked the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to include the regional panel in developing any reasonable and prudent measures in advance of the draft biological opinions on the Hawai‘i deep-set and American Samoa longline fisheries. The biological opinion assesses if the fisheries are likely to jeopardize the continued existence or recovery of Endangered Species Act-listed species.
A policy directive from NMFS recognizes the council’s unique role in helping the agency comply with the ESA. The council is charged with developing fishery management regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which are approved by the Secretary of Commerce and then implemented by NMFS.
Despite repeated council requests over the past three years, NMFS has not discussed potential measures that may be needed to reduce the fisheries’ impact on ESA-listed species,” the council said.
At 3% of the total catch, the Hawaii longline fishery has a low impact on the Western and Central Pacific’s bigeye tuna stock. The council recommended exploring an increase to the U.S longline catch limit for WCPO bigeye tuna and increasing future allocation limits from the territories to Hawaii-based longline vessels.
In the 2021 annual report on the status of fisheries in the region, pelagic fisheries catch increased across gear types, resulting in increased revenue from high fish prices.
Bottomfish fisheries in the CNMI and Guam increased substantially in catch and effort. Bottomfish catch in American Samoa waned to its lowest level over the past decade—the average yearly catch of approximately 12,000 pounds dropped to just over 2,000 pounds in 2021.