By Jayvee L. Vallejera
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is urging the U.S. Congress to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval of proposed monuments.
This comes in the wake of President George W. Bush's declaration Tuesday of three vast swaths in the Pacific as national marine monuments, using his executive powers under the hundred-year-old Act.
In a statement issued Thursday, Wespac voiced concern that Bush's use of the Antiquities Act to create the new marine monuments bypasses the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates an environmental review and prior consultation with indigenous people and other members of the public.
“The Antiquities Act should be amended to require congressional approval of proposed monuments as it has been done for Wyoming and Alaska and to require compliance to NEPA,” Wespac executive director Kitty Simonds said.
Wespac was one of those who had initially opposed the designation of the marine monuments.
The new marine monuments are composed of the three northernmost islands of the Northern Mariana Islands-Uracas, Asuncion, and Maug-and the Marianas Trench, the Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and a string of islands in the Pacific called the Line Islands, which include the Johnston Atoll and Wake Island. Bush's Tuesday proclamation bans commercial fishing in these areas but allows for recreational, sustenance and traditional indigenous fishing.
The Hawaii longline fishery currently fishes around Palmyra, Kingman and Johnston Atolls. The American purse seine fishery also operate within the U.S. Pacific remote island areas, and CNMI fishermen have harvested in the three northern islands of their island chain.
With commercial fishing now prohibited in these areas, Wespac believes this could put more pressure on other fishing grounds.
“The significant loss of fishing areas available to commercial fishermen in Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands can be counterproductive to sustainable fishery goals,” Simonds said. “Reduction of available fishing areas often leads to increased fishing pressure in other areas.”
Despite misgivings, Wespac chair Sean Martin said, “The Council looks forward to continuing its work under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the presidential proclamations to protect everyone's interest in these areas,” said Wespac.
Wespac develops and amends fishery management plans for the U.S. Pacific Islands under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. These plans and amendments are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implemented by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.
With the new marine monuments, nearly a quarter of the U.S. exclusive economic zone waters surrounding the Pacific islands are now designated as marine protected areas, and the U.S. Pacific Islands account for half of the MPAs in the entire United States.