Fishery council wants monument exception
Westpac believes that existing fishing practices are consistent with the new isle monument
The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council will ask for continued commercial fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, despite a presidential order yesterday that will ban it in a large region declared as a monument, a council member says.
Westpac council member Edwin Ebisui said the council thinks fishing is "palatable and consistent with a monument or reserve."
"Westpac's position is and has been that the two fisheries going on up there (bottom-fish and pelagic) have been for years absolutely consistent with marine protection," Ebisui, Hawaii member of the council, said yesterday by telephone from a meeting in American Samoa.
Even Bush's praise of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as "pristine" is a testament to the lack of impact from fishing, Ebisui said.
The council's comments were the only discordant note about President Bush's proclamation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument yesterday.
President Bush, seated, signed a proclamation on the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a monument yesterday in the East Room of the White House. Attending the ceremony were U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, left; U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii; U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez; Gov. Linda Lingle; documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau; marine biologist Sylvia Earle; and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
National and local environmental groups, wildlife agencies and Hawaii public officials praised President Bush's action.
Bush's 11-page proclamation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument says "commercial fishing for bottomfish and associated pelagic species is prohibited in the monument after five years from the date of this proclamation."
At 140,000 square miles, the monument would eventually become the largest no-take marine conservation area in the world, just ahead of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Bush's proclamation yesterday ends the need for release of draft and final environmental impact statements about the effects of creating a marine sanctuary -- and public comment on them.
Instead, it spells out the general terms of how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would share management responsibilities for the new monument.
The jurisdiction of the state, which controls most of the waters out to three miles from any land, will remain the same.
"This seamless partnership between the state and federal government, environmental conservationists and native Hawaiian organizations will preserve this special chain of atolls and reefs as a natural and cultural legacy," Gov. Linda Lingle said in a statement. She and other Hawaii officials attended the national monument announcement yesterday.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, who described himself as overwhelmed and overjoyed by Bush's announcement, said, "His is a spectacular action which justly earns the distinction of the most significant single action in marine resource protection in our country's history."
Case had introduced a federal bill to create a refuge around the islands through an act of Congress that would have banned all but traditional subsistence fishing in the area. He said Bush's action does essentially the same thing.
Other members of Hawaii's congressional delegation also praised Bush's announcement.
"The designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument is a bold step in protecting the vast resources and life of these islands and surrounding waters in perpetuity," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Hawaii Sierra Club chapter. "By placing this area out of reach of fishing, commercial activities and human meddling, we are doing a tremendous favor to generations yet to come. Some places we just need to let be."
Westpac's Ebisui said he is still hopeful there will be additional room for public comment on that, including from his council.
The council recommends fishing policy for U.S. Pacific island states and territories to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Bill Wakefield, one of nine fishing boat owners now permitted to fish in the Northwestern Islands, said yesterday he is already working on plans to get into Kona coffee production on the Big Island.
Wakefield's boat the Jaime Elizabeth just returned from a two-week trip that yielded 4,000 pounds of fish, and he is not sure yet if it will be its last.
"I've got a mixed reaction," Wakefield said of expected proposals to buy out his and others' investment in the fishery. "All us fishermen have a deep, deep love for that area," he said.
"The overall picture, conservation, I'm for," Wakefield said. "To me personally there's a bigger picture: to have a monument that's a secure, no-take area up there."
The president's proclamation sets a cap on the total amount of fish that can be removed each of the five years that current fishers are allowed to continue at 350,000 pounds of bottomfish (including uku, hapuupuu, ehu, onaga, opakapaka and kahala) and 180,000 pounds for pelagic (open ocean) species.
Without such a cap, Wakefield said, "It could be a mad rush to go up and catch as much fish as you can."
State records show that in 2004 the nine commercial fishing boats permitted in the Northwestern Islands caught about one-third of the total 495,000 pounds of bottomfish harvested in all Hawaii waters.
Peter Young, director of Hawaii's Department Land and Natural Resources, has said in the past that the cost of buying out the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands fishers would be relatively small in the context of preserving an international resource.
NEW YORK TIMES
PURPOSE OF NEW MARINE MONUMENT
According to the White House, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will:
» Preserve access for native Hawaiian cultural activities.
» Provide for carefully regulated educational and scientific activities.
» Enhance visitation in a special area around Midway Island.
» Prohibit unauthorized access to the monument.
» Phase out commercial fishing over a five-year period.
» Ban other types of resource extraction and dumping of waste.
The White House touts the monument as:
» An example of cooperative conservation among people and different government agencies, noting that since 2002 there have been more than 100 meetings and working group sessions open to the public -- including 22 formal public hearings -- that generated more than 52,000 comments, most in favor of strong conservation measures.
» A way to protect cultural ties between native Hawaiians and the lands and waters.
» An opportunity for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service to share management duties and cooperate with the state.
» Providing more public access for recreation and historical visits to Midway Island, the site of one of the most decisive battles of World War II.
» Acting as a "living laboratory" to better manage our ocean ecosystems, and allowing us to pursue advances in science.
On the Net
» A video of yesterday's announcement at the White House, a copy of the president's proclamation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, and a fact sheet can be seen at www.whitehouse.gov.
» Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve: www.hawaiireef.noaa.gov
The Associated Press contributed to this report.