Fisheries can coexist with NWHI monument
CHA Smith's June 22 "Gathering Place"
column is a string of unsubstantiated, false statements that mislead the public about the science and fisheries of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Smith says "the high-impact, eight-vessel commercial fishery now operating NWHI waters continues to take a serious toll on standing stocks of bottomfish, frequently interacting with endangered monk seals and turtles." Federal fishery observers on 31 NWHI bottomfish fishing trips during 2003-2005 found no hookings or entanglements of monk seals or sea turtles. The vessels are by law less than 60 feet long and use only hook and line, a selective, low-impact fishing gear that results in little habitat damage. Bottomfish inhabit depths of 300 to 1,200 feet -- miles away from shallow-water coral reefs. This 80-year-old fishery has been monitored, researched and assessed the past 25 years by federal scientists, who say the stocks are not overfished nor is the fishery causing excessive fishing mortality.
Contrary to Smith's assertion that the fishery is of little importance, species of NWHI bottomfish can command as much as $5.54 a pound at the dock, while retail prices often exceed $20 a pound. NWHI bottomfish are often larger than MHI bottomfish so are preferred for the restaurant fillet market. The NWHI provides as much as half of our local onaga, opakapaka and other bottomfish landings. Hawaii's fish retail and wholesale stores, restaurants and top chefs publicly support the fishery's continuation.
SMITH SAYS the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council "seems to pursue exceptions to every law that limits its ability to extract resources and expand profits." The council is mandated to ensure optimal use of fishery resources and to consider effects on habitat, protected species and the ecosystem. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lawyer is present at each council meeting. Council recommendations are reviewed and implemented only upon approval by the U.S. secretary of Commerce.
Smith falsely asserts that "Wespac sought and received exceptions to the law in pursuit of egg-bearing females and juveniles, even as the lobster fishery crashed." The council recommended that every harvested lobster be counted in this quota fishery because federal scientists reported that hungry sharks and ulua consumed many of the discarded females and juveniles, among other factors.
Smith claims that "Wespac argued that harvesting precious corals and lobsters met the sanctuary's goal of protecting the coral reef ecosystem." The truth: Wespac recommended a moratorium on the harvest of these resources. Smith falsely claims Wespac is being investigated by the federal government.
Instead of continuing their vendetta against Wespac, Smith and others who oppose the healthy, responsible NWHI fisheries would better benefit the environment by tackling real problems.
The resilient, isolated and wild NWHI are subject to coral bleaching and a rising sea level. These manmade and natural islands and pinnacles are slowly sinking. Monk seals and sea turtles will be looking for new homes as their habitat disappears. Closing two-thirds of the nearshore federal waters around Hawaii to commercial fisheries will increase our islands' dependence on imported fish. This will add to global warming. We urge the president and others to keep our small-scale, highly regulated, sustainable fisheries open and, instead, focus on reducing global warming to save the NWHI from a real threat rather than the mythical threat of eight small bottomfish vessels.
THE NWHI Marine National Monument can coexist with these fisheries that provide both cultural and socioeconomic benefits to Hawaii. The area is pristine in part because of our conservative fishery management regime for the last 30 years.
Kitty M. Simonds is executive director of Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council