By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Science advisors to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council said they found no scientific evidence to justify the Biden administration’s plan to expand the restricted areas around the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary.
They warned that the planned expansion of the existing marine monument would instead result in “unintended consequences.”
“Further restrictions could displace fleets into areas that may have higher bycatch rates or limits, thereby causing a larger adverse effect on protected species population,” said Steve Martell of Sea State Inc. and member of the Scientific and Statistical Committee.
During the council’s meeting in Honolulu this week, the science committee reaffirmed its conclusion— first reported in September—that existing regulations are sufficient to meet the goals and objectives set by the federal government under the proposed new Pacific Remote Island National Marine Sanctuary.
Currently, the Pacific Remote Islands monument area consists of approximately 495,189 square miles in the central Pacific Ocean, encompassing seven islands and atolls: Baker, Howland, Jarvis Island, Johnston, Wake, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef.
The marine sanctuary designation banned fishing operations within the protected areas.
According to the White House, the potential new National Marine Sanctuary would conserve 777,000 square miles, including the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and currently unprotected submerged lands and waters.
The marine monument expansion plan is part of the Biden administration’s goal to conserve 30 percent of the U.S. ocean by 2030.
“The burden of conservation will continue to fall on the shoulders of the Pacific island communities and additional regulations may limit future economic opportunities,” said Debra Cabrera, associate professor at the University of Guam and a member of the advisory panel.
In a press release after the meeting, the council cited the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s report, which showed that “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs are directly or indirectly supported by commercial fisheries,” particularly in American Samoa, whose economy relies on the cannery.
“Additional fishing regulations would be counterproductive to efforts to get better data from fishing communities that are disadvantaged and rely on subsistence or fisheries to make a living,” said Jim Lynch, the science committee’s chair and general counsel.
The council recommended striking a balance between conservation goals and the economic and cultural affairs of Pacific island communities.
“I’m not only worried about the lack of U.S. footprint in those waters and the risk of foreign fleet incursions but also the inequity in terms of Pacific island communities who are disproportionately affected and bear the brunt of the impacts,” said Frank Camacho, associate professor of biology at UOG and committee member.
The council stressed the need for careful consideration of potential negative unintended consequences and the importance of data-driven decision-making.
“I would not like to see any interruptions to ongoing data collection efforts in the area like bio-sampling and tagging that is dependent on the fishery,” said David Itano, fisheries consultant.