Scientists to address fish catch limits for US territories
Guam bottomfish are considered overfished according to a 2019 stock assessment. Photo courtesy of James Borja
Scientists from throughout the Pacific are meeting in Honolulu this week to discuss acceptable catch of bottomfish in Guam and the CNMI for fishing year 2020-2023.
The Scientific and Statistical Committee of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will also set the catch and allocation limits for longline-caught bigeye tuna in Guam, CNMI and American Samoa during a meeting on March 3 to 5.
The catch quota will be based on the 2019 stock assessment of the fisheries, which is the best scientific information available.
The assessment found the Guam bottomfish to be overfished but the fishery is not experiencing overfishing, and the CNMI to be neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
The acceptable bottomfish catches will be based on the overfishing limit reflected in the stock assessment minus any scientific uncertainties and will be used by the council to set the annual catch limits for the fisheries. The council is scheduled to meet March 10 to 12 in Honolulu to recommend the ACLs and address other matters.
Conservation and management measures for Western and Central Pacific bigeye tuna are developed by the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
The commission has developed specific national quotas for longline-caught bigeye tuna for six member countries, including the United States. However, no quotas are specified for small island developing states and territories including American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI in recognition of their aspirations to develop their fisheries.
Although not required by the commission, the council has developed quotas for the U.S. Pacific territories.
Also established was a management framework that allows the territories to allocate a portion of their catch limits through specified fishing agreements with U.S. vessels permitted under the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the purposes of responsible fisheries development in the Territories. The current catch limits are 2,000 metric tons (mt) per territory of which up to 1,000 mt can be allocated. The SSC will review the bigeye longline catch and allocation limits and may make recommendations to the Council to adjust them.
Other items on the SSC agenda
American Samoa, Guam and CNMI Bottomfish Management: The original Bottomfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Western Pacific Region listed 20 fish species that dominated the landings, which included both shallow and deep-water species. The bottomfish were grouped into a single complex for management purposes. In 2009, the bottomfish management unit species (BMUS) were amended as part of the restructuring of the Council's FMPs into place-based Fishery Ecosystem Plans (FEPs). American Samoa, Guam and CNMI each had its own BMUS list, which continued to be treated as a complex for management purposes. The BMUS lists for the territories were most recently revised in 2018 when some MUS were designated as Ecosystem Component Species, which do not require ACLs. The territory bottomfish fisheries have evolved over time, which may warrant further amendments of the BMUS.
Rebuilding Plan: The release of the 2019 benchmark stock assessment for the territory bottomfish fishery triggered the development of a rebuilding plan for the American Samoa and Guam bottomfish that were considered overfished. This is the first rebuilding plan that will be developed for the region. The SSC is scheduled to discuss its role in the rebuilding plan development process and determine the scientific information needed to develop the plan.
Electronic Reporting: The SSC will review and make recommendations to the Council on reporting requirements, cost allocation, and data management of electronic reporting in the Hawaii longline fishery.
Recommendations to made by the SSC on these and other matters will be considered by the Council when it meets March 10 to 12.