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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Council recommends no limit for tuna catch in US territories

The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has recommended that no catch limit be set for long-line caught bigeye tuna in any U.S. Pacific territory from 2020 to 2023.

The committee also recommended that each territory be allowed to allocate up to 2,000 metric tons o federally permitted Hawai'i longline vessels.

The committee made the recommendations during a three-day meeting in Honolulu that concluded Friday.

“This and other recommendations by the council's SSC will be considered by the Council at its 178th meeting in Honolulu on June 25-27,” according to a press release from WCPFC.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the council has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters in Hawaiʻi and other U.S. Pacific islands.

The WCPFC is an international regional fishery management organization that develops quotas and other management measures for tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Under WCPFC, small island developing states and participating U.S. territories do not have longline-caught bigeye quotas.

However, under an amendment to the Council's Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has the authority to specify annual catch and allocation limits for Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

In recent years, each U.S. territory had a 2,000 mt limit and authority to allocate up to 1,000 mt.

Prior to making its decision, the SSC reviewed stock projections through 2045, which showed that catch limit and allocation scenarios of up to 3,000 mt per territory were not significant enough to cause the stock to go over any limit reference points adopted by the WCPFC.

Also during the meeting, SSC set the acceptable biological catch for the main Hawaiian Islands Kona crab commercial fishery at 30,802 pounds for 2020 to 2023, based on updated information from a 2018 benchmark stock assessment and other reports.

"This decision accounted for the scientific uncertainties with an estimated risk of overfishing of 38 percent," WCPFC said. "The council will utilize the acceptable biological catch to specify the annual catch limit for the stock."

"Where you close [fisheries] now is not where the species are going to be in 20 years,” said Ray Hilborn, SSC member.

He also pointed out that non-governmental organizations strongly push for permanently closed areas rather than considering adaptive spatial management.

A working group of the SSC reported on its efforts to define benefits and limitations to spatial management actions relative to pertinent regional fishery issues and management objectives. The working group discussed the development of a workshop on "Spatial Management of Blue Water Ecosystems" with a broad spectrum of participants to be held in 2019 or 2020. The SSC recommended that the Council endorse the workshop with the themes of 1) spatial management objectives and performance metrics, 2) alternative approaches to spatial management, 3) evaluation and monitoring, and 4) policy and outreach approaches to spatial management.

The Council will consider these and other SSC recommendations when it meets next week in Honolulu.

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