Fisheries council opposes Biden administration’s plans for new marine monument
The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, at its latest meeting, again signaled its opposition to the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s plans to establish a new marine monument in the Pacific Remote Islands.
The administration’s proposal would form a new sanctuary around the Pacific Remote Islands using the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, creating a 770,000 square mile area that would be fully conserved. The conservation plan, the council said at its latest meeting, is likely already satisfied by the existing fishing regulations that govern the area.
The findings come after the council’s scientific advisors reported to the council that the majority of the objectives the monuments objectives – like protecting sensitive nearshore coral reefs – are already covered by existing fishing regulations.
“I think we need to be honest about what additional regulations would protect,” University of Washington Professor Ray Hilborn said of the new monument. “Nearshore coral reefs are already covered – the real threats aren’t coming from fishing, they are coming from climate change.”
The council and other regional officials have already spoken out against the plan to crate the new marine sanctuary, which if created would be the largest marine protected area in the world. U.S. Representative Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, representing American Samoa, said during a meeting in July that the monument designation would devastate the economy of her district, as up to 80 percent of all jobs and exports are related to fishing and canning.
At the latest meeting of the council, WPFMC Chair Taulapapa Will Sword, who is from American Samoa, called the increasing regulations that the regions fisheries have faced part of the “death by a thousand cuts” that fishers have faced. Increased fuel prices, increased costs to fish in foreign waters, and changes in the local economy have all served to hurt the industry, he said.
Council Vice Chair Taotasi Archie Soliai said the data form the scientific committee clearly shows that the monument would in all likelihood add no additional protection for vulnerable species.
“The current fishing effort in the PRI will not affect the habitat or species that a sanctuary may be concerned about – the data shows that,” Soliai said.
Soliai said establishing the monuments would drive fishing activity to other countries.
"The question is, 'Who benefits from spatial closures?’” Soliai said. “China, Japan, and Chinese Taipei. The results from these cumulative impacts are that U.S. purse seiners will reflag to other countries, vessels fishing further east in the Pacific will not land their catches in Pago Pago, and ultimately no fish for the cannery will lead to its shutdown.”
WPFMC Executive Director Kitty Simonds called the proposed monument designation “federal overreach.”
The council also said it would be willing to implement additional regulations to satisfy the goals of the marine monument in order to preserve the fishing industry in the region – a suggestion the scientific advisors gave to the council earlier this month. The council specifically requested NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries look into whether additional regulations may be necessary.
This isn’t the first time that a fisheries management council in the U.S. has opposed a marine monument. In 2020, eight different fishery management councils – including the WPFMC – sent a letter to the head of NOAA Fisheries opposing the complete bans on commercial fisheries, citing a lack of peer-reviewed literature demonstrating that they benefit species.
Image courtesy of the Wester Pacific Fishery Management Council