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VIDEO: Fisheries group opposes Obama’s Pacific marine preserve

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council came out in opposition of President Obama’s announcement that he will create the world’s largest marine preserve in a swath of the Pacific, closing the area to fishing, energy exploration and other activities.

The council, which is responsible for managing Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marian, says the measure will harm area commercial and recreational fishing, businesses, create enforcement and oversight problems, and create an environment that’s ripe for illegal fishing.

“There are a number of concerns about expanding the monument,”Bob Vanesse, a principal at Stove Boat, a public affairs firm that represents the council, told Trade Only Today. “Internationally, pirate fishing is a huge issue. So the question is actually, how do we monitor this? If our fishermen stay out of area, foreign fleets could go into areas without Coast Guard controls. It sounds really nice for the president to do this expansion, but nothing in oceans and fisheries is simple.”

Council chairman Arnold Palacios said in a video press conference that when President George W. Bush set the original monument in 2009, “there were a lot of promises”about the benefits to the local communities. “Today we’re five years, six years into the establishment of this monument, and very little revenue that was promised us has trickled down.”

Palacios says that local agencies and fisheries were left to implement the federal government’s plan. The Pew Charitable Trusts, which was “very instrumental in pushing for the establishment of these monuments —today, unfortunately and sadly, they are nowhere to be seen. Now the local government, U.S. fisheries and regional council are left to lift the weight on what types of policies and management we come up with.”

The people of the commonwealth want to have their waters, Palacios said. “While we still struggle to address this issue, another announcement was made by our president to expand additional areas to existing monuments, and that is very disconcerting to us and the community,”he said.

The people of American Samoa were hit hard with the move, and the people have felt that action has been unilateral and without consulting those who rely on the areas for their livelihood, he said.

In addition, domestic fishermen act as the “eyes and ears”to ensure foreign anglers don’t illegally fish, said council member and commercial fisherman Edwin Ebisui.

“Our pelagic fishing program is an international model,”Ebisui said. Any curtailment “sets us back”and makes the region more dependent on imports.

Earlier this month President Obama expanded upon and more than quadrupled a protective measure that Bush took during his presidency. Details haven’t emerged regarding how the rules would be implemented, but the Washington Post reported that the proposal would go into effect later this year, after a comment period, and would double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.

When Bush created the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in 2009, he exempted sportfishing to address industry opposition. Jeff Angers, of the Center for Coastal Conservation, said at the time that although the group was still determining the implications of the measure, it will continue working to exempt sportfishing.

“The environmental footprint of recreational fishing and boating is de minimis,”Angers told Trade Only Today. “We will continue to explain to the administration that recreational fishing is a permissible use, even in the larger area.”

A summer public comment period is underway.

Under the new proposal, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 —all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls that the United States controls. The designation would include waters as much as 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.

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