Bottomfish catch limits for the CNMI set at 228,000 lbs a year

HONOLULU—The Scientific and Statistical Committee, a group of fishery scientists who advise the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, concluded its two-day meeting in Honolulu yesterday by setting the 2016 and 2017 acceptable biological catches, or ABCs, for bottomfish in the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The ABCs are the amount of fish that can be harvested annually by the fisheries over time without causing overfishing of the stock.

After considering a variety of alternatives, the scientists set the ABCs to a level that corresponds to a 37-percent probability of overfishing in 2017 for American Samoa and 36 percent in 2017 for Guam and the CNMI. Federal regulations allow up to a 50 percent level of overfishing. None of the bottomfish stocks in the U.S. Pacific Island territories are currently overfished or experiencing overfishing. Historically, only Guam has experienced overfishing and only in the year 2000. Based on these risk levels, the 2016 and 2017 bottomfish ABCs are 106,000 lbs annually for American Samoa; 66,000 lbs for Guam; and 228,000 lbs for the CNMI.

The council will utilize these ABCs to recommend annual catch limits, or ACLs, when it meets Oct. 21 and 22 in American Samoa. The council could set the ACLs at the ABC levels, which it has done in the past, or recommend ACLs lower than the ABCs based on social, economic, ecological or management uncertainties. The current ACLs (fishing year 2015) are 101,000 lbs for American Samoa; 66,800 lbs for Guam; and 228,000 lbs for the CNMI.

In addition to the bottomfish ABCs, the SSC during its meeting this week considered options to address continued Pacific-wide overfishing of bigeye tuna. Reports from the scientists will be forwarded to the council for its review. They include potential spatial management options, such as applying quotas only to the equatorial region, which is where bigeye tuna catches are highest; establishing separate quotas for each region in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean based on the stock assessment for that region; and closing the high seas to longline fishing in the area near the Line Islands that is suspected to be a bigeye tuna spawning area. The SSC also reiterated its recommendation that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the international organization that develops the Pacific bigeye tuna quotas, require registration of fish aggregation devices as fishing gear.

Action items on the council’s agenda include specifying the 2016 catch limits for longline bigeye tuna for the U.S. Pacific territories and reviewing non-regulatory modifications to the Fishery Ecosystem Plans for the Western Pacific Region. For more on the council meeting, go to www.wpcouncil.org, email info@wpcouncil.org or phone (808) 522-8220.

The council was established by Congress under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 to manage domestic fisheries operating seaward of state waters around Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the CNMI, and the US Pacific Island Remote Island Areas. Recommendations by the council are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is composed of appointees by the Secretary of Commerce from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors. The CNMI representative is John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services. (Wespac)

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