WPFMC Voices Concerns Over Pacific Remote Islands Sanctuary

Image: Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.

A proposed marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) is being strongly criticized by the chairman of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC) as potentially devastating to the economy of American Samoa.

“This top-down approach to regulating fisheries is wrong,” Council Chair Will Sword told the Council Coordination Committee (CCC) during its Oct. 11-13 meeting in Alexandria, Va.  “It is completely opposite of the [Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act] process where the bottom-up approach is mandatory.”

Sword said the Biden administrations executive orders on equity and environmental justice goals “are rubbish if this sanctuary proposal becomes a reality, for there will be no commercial fishing.”

The WPFMC, commenting in an Oct. 23 statement, said that American Samoa’s economy is solely dependent on a tuna cannery in Pago Pago which accounts for 99.5% of exports and 84% of the territory’s private employment.

The cannery relies on fish caught in the PRI by the U.S. longline and purse seine fleets and any loss of the fish from this area is expected to have significant impacts on American Samoa.

The CCC has questioned the compressed timeline for sanctuary development compared to part practice and suggested that ONMS consultation should occur earlier and more often in the process.

The idea of the proposed PRI sanctuary came in response to President Biden’s direction to the Secretary of Commerce on March 21 to explore its establishment as part of the Biden administration goal of conservation and restoration of at least 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030.

A National Marine Fisheries Service data analysis presented at a recent workshop in American Samoa demonstrated there is no added conservation benefit of the proposed sanctuary.

The CCC meeting brings together representatives from all eight regional fishery management councils and NOAA to discuss issues of relevance to all councils, including issues related to the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. More information on the CCC is available at www.fisherycouncils.org. More information on fishing regulations and the proposed sanctuary, is at www.wpcouncil.org/marine-spatial-management.