Honolulu— The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu has recommended removing the 2,000 metric (mt) annual catch limit for bigeye tuna caught by longline in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) for American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI.
Removal of the catch limit would bring parity between the U.S. territories and other territories and small island developing states (SIDs) in the region.
The recommendation, made on June 28, will go the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for approval as part of Amendment 9 to the Pacific Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Western Pacific Region.
Under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international regional fishery management organization to which the United States belongs, participating territories and SIDS have no longline-caught bigeye tuna limit in the WCPO to allow them to develop their fisheries.
The council, however, recommended and the National Marine Fisheries Service established limits of 2,000 mt per U.S. territory under Amendment 7 of the Pelagic FEP for the Western Pacific Region.
This was at a time when there was some concern about the status of the Pacific bigeye tuna stock. Subsequently, the 2017 and 2018 bigeye tuna stock assessments by the Pacific Community, the science provider for the fishery commission , show the Western stock as being neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
Besides removing the WCPO longline-caught bigeye limit for the U.S. territories, the council has also recommended that each U.S. territory be allowed to allocate up to 1,500 mt of its quota to federally permitted, Hawai'i-based longline vessels under specified fishing agreements for fishing years 2020 through 2023. Currently under Amendment 7 of the Pelagic FEP, the allocation level is set at 1,000 mt per territory per year.
Eric Kingma, executive director of the Hawaii Longline Association, noted during public comments that the allocation increase would provide "more flexibility in these agreements, as well as the utilization of a resource that is not experiencing overfishing or overfished, and the opportunity for territories to benefit."