NW Isles fish catch at issue
A U.S. agency rejects a proposal to allow 17 commercial boats
A regional council's proposed fishing rules for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are not in agreement with the goals of a national marine sanctuary there, the federal agency that oversees both fishing and sanctuary programs said yesterday.
The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council wants to allow up to 17 commercial bottom-fishing boats in the remote, 132,000-square-mile area after it becomes a sanctuary to protect its unique natural resources.
The council also seeks to leave the door open for future harvest of lobster, precious coral and coral reef fish in what is now the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.
But on Tuesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration informed the council that its fishing rules for the area, proposed in April 2004, have been rejected.
Among the reasons, senior NOAA policy advisor Stephanie Bailenson said yesterday, are:
» Lack of adequate no-fishing zones to safeguard protected species and critical habitats within the larger sanctuary.
» Reliance on short-term bans of lobster, precious coral and coral reef fish harvesting, with no criteria for how or when those bans could be lifted.
» Lack of proof that increasing permitted bottom-fishing boats to 17 from the current seven would not adversely affect the ecosystem.
The NOAA decision this week does not stop the fishing council from providing input for the sanctuary draft environmental impact statement, which is expected next spring, and will list a number of fishing options, ranging from a complete ban to different limitations on fishing, Bailenson said.
Fishing council spokesman Paul Dalzell called the NOAA decision "an obvious setback and disappointment" for continued fishing in the Northwestern Islands and wondered whether NOAA was "throwing us a bone."
Regional fishing councils, composed of fishermen and government officials, set policy for fishing in federal waters, which extend 200 miles from any U.S. land.
The Ocean Conservancy said in a statement that NOAA's decision not to follow the fishing council plan showed "a commitment to healthy marine life."
On Monday the Ocean Conservancy and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute said federal data show that commercial fishing has sharply depleted bottom fish in the Northwestern Islands and threatens the near-pristine ecosystem.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.