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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Fishery council set big-eye tuna catch limits US territories

Fishermen catching tuna

Honoulu-- The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council today in Honolulu recommended that the federal catch limits for longline-caught bigeye tuna for the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for fishing year 2020 remain at 2,000 metric tons (mt) each and the allocation limits be up to 1,500 mt each with a cap of 3,000 mt overall.

Previously, the allocation limits were up to 1,000 mt for each Tterritory. The new allocation limits and cap ensure that the potential environmental impact remains the same while allowing the territories more flexibility in their allocation choices. The Council’s recommendation will be reviewed by the Secretary of Commerce for approval.

Because bigeye tuna is a highly migratory species, conservation and management measures for it are developed internationally by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and, in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. The WCPFC has set longline-caught quotas for six countries, with the US quota being the smallest at 3,554 mt. By comparison, Japan’s quota in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) is 17,765 mt, of which 500 mt is transferred to China. In the EPO, Japan transfers an additional 6,000 mt of longline-caught bigeye tuna quota to China and 2,000 mt to Korea.

The WCPFC did not set longline-caught bigeye tuna quotas for small island developing states and participating territories, including the U.S. Pacific territories, in recognition of their aspirations to develop their fisheries.

The U.S. territorial quotas are a federal initiative, recommended by the Council. Under U.S. law and as recognized by the WCPFC, the U.S. participating territories can allocate a portion of their federal longline-caught bigeye tuna catch limit with permitted U.S. vessels based in Hawai‘i through specified fishing agreements.

These Hawai‘i-based longline vessels in exchange provide monetary contributions to the Sustainable Fisheries Fund to support the marine conservation plans developed by the governor of each Territory. Fishery development projects in these plans that have been funded in the past have included boat ramps, vessel docks, a fishing platform, workshops and training, fish markets and marketing plans, among others.

The Council today also took the following actions, among others:

  • Recommended setting a target implementation date of Jan. 1, 2021, for requiring mandatory electronic reporting (ER) in the Hawai‘i longline fishery. Final action is scheduled to be taken during the September 2020 Council meeting.

  • Requested that NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) report on total Hawai‘i billfish catch per year by species and gear type (longline, troll, etc.) and specify how many of these fish were retained, discarded, released and sold. This request is in response to the impacts of the Billfish Conservation Act amendment on fisheries in Hawai‘i and the US Pacific territories. The amended Act requires commercial billfish to be retained on island, causing local markets to be flooded, depressing the prices of billfish and other species, and may be leading to increased discards and dumping of caught billfish.

  • Directed staff to work with NMFS to obtain publicly available reports and other data on sea turtle interaction rates in foreign fisheries operating in the areas overlapping with the loggerhead and leatherback turtle distributions and to provide a presentation to the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) at its June 2020 meeting.

  • Directed staff to request formal annual updates from the US State Department on international deep-sea mining and spatial planning activities within the Clipperton-Clarion Zone (located south of the Hawaiian Islands) and in proximity to Guam, CNMI and American Samoa.

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