We need to be honest with others and ourselves – and face reality. The marine resources surrounding Hawai‘i are on a decline – and have been for quite some time.
A scientific report notes, “The total biomass of reef fishes in the Main Hawaiian Islands is less than a quarter of what it was a century ago.”
If we do not change the way we use our nearshore reefs, fisheries and marine resources, there is no reason to expect the decline to stop.
There are many threats and impacts to the marine resources, including: Invasive Species, Sedimentation and Run-off, Pollution and Nutrients, Marine Debris, Recreational Use, Coastal Development, Weather (i.e. hurricanes, global warming, etc) and Fishing.
The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC – one of eight regional fishery management councils) is composed of 16-members members and is the policy-making organization for the management of fisheries in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ – generally 3- to 200-miles offshore) of member US interests.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the guiding document for fisheries management actions. In it are “National Standards.”
The first National Standard states that any fishery management plan, its rules, and conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing.
The eight Regional Councils develop management plans for marine fisheries in waters seaward of state waters of their individual regions.
Management includes areas around the State of Hawai‘i, Territory of American Samoa, Territory of Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and US Pacific island possessions, an area of nearly 1.5 million square miles.
Plans and specific management measures (such as fishing seasons, quotas and closed areas) are developed. These plans and measures are implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
I am very concerned about purported “management” of our marine resources – particularly, the stated goal of “sustainable fishery management plans” that have proven to be insufficient to sustain the fisheries.
Here’s what’s happening with some of the managed species:
• Big Eye Tuna – NOAA Fisheries announced in June 2004 that overfishing was occurring – it continues
• Yellowfin Tuna – The 2006 assessment results indicated overfishing is occurring – it continues
• NWHI lobster fishery – NOAA Fisheries declared an emergency closure in 2000
• North Pacific albacore – the stock is considered fully exploited
• Southwest Pacific Swordfish – Since 1997, catch rates and mean size have been declining
• Striped Marlin in the Southwest Pacific – levels of fishing mortality may exceed the maximum sustainable yield
• Bottomfish – In May 2005, NOAA Fisheries determined that over-fishing is occurring in the Main Hawaiian Islands – it continues
• Black Coral – Due to the reduction in large colonies the minimum size of harvested colonies was raised
• Swordfish – NOAA periodically halted longline in 2006 and 2011 because of too many endangered sea turtle interactions
(Overfishing means the rate at which a species is being harvested is greater than it can sustain itself.)
Obviously, we need to do things differently.
The decline in marine resources has an enormous impact on local, subsistence and recreational fishermen, and coastal fishing communities statewide.
I was honored when President George W. Bush appointed me to serve as one of the five United States Commissioners to represent the United States’ interests on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC – an international fisheries Commission.)
It was interesting to see how fisheries management measures are complicated by unrelated treaties and relationships between the countries. The good news is there are attempts to resolve the differences.
Likewise, I was honored to serve as a member of WESPAC – initially, as a representative for the State of Hawai‘i, then, a term as an at-large member on the Council.
However, I was mostly frustrated while serving on WESPAC – too often, it looked like decisions were made for the benefit of short-term fish harvesting, rather than long-term fisheries sustainability.
I hope in the future WESPAC more-fully addresses its obligations and opportunities to prevent overfishing and protect the resources for future generations.
We all need to work together to protect the resources – resource managers, fishers, environmentalists, scientists and community.
But we’ve got to face reality and do things differently – for the resources – otherwise, there won’t be Fish for the Future.