Feb 23, 2012

NOAA and USFWS Behind Schedule on Banning Commercial Fishing in Pacific Monument

Rose Atoll NWREurekAlert reports that the Marine Conservation Institute filed a formal petition to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce, asking them to prohibit commercial fishing in the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument.

In 2009, President George W. Bush created the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and commercial fishing was to be banned because it was hurting the sensitive ecosystem. Now enforcement of that ban is lacking.

William Chandler, Vice President for Government Affairs at Marine Conservation Institute, said, “When President Bush designated these magnificent areas for preservation, he specifically directed that commercial fishing be prohibited in them immediately. But now, over three years later, the fishing ban and associated penalties for illegal fishing within the monuments have yet to be put into place. As a result, and despite evidence of illegal fishing in the monuments, the Coast Guard won’t enforce the ban. This is inexplicable. We’re just trying to get the Administration to do what the presidential designation documents say. There is simply no justification for delay.”

Chandler said, “It is hard to believe a clear directive of the president has gone unimplemented for so long. The responsible federal agencies have had three years to establish fishing rules that ban commercial fishing and leave recreational and indigenous intact, but they have not yet delivered. Without such a ban, these unique ecosystems with their sensitive populations could be damaged by fishermen or their vessels. The world’s largest population of giant clams, nesting sea turtles, and areas of tremendous biological diversity are all at risk.”

Presidential Proclamation 8336, which established the monument, gave the Secretary of the Interior management responsibility for the monument, in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary of Defense continues to manage Wake Island under a 1972 agreement with the Department of the Interior until the agreement is terminated. Similarly, the Department of Defense continues to manage the terrestrial portions of Johnston Atoll until jurisdiction is returned to the Department of the Interior. The Proclamation prohibits commercial fishing within the monument, but gives the Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, primary responsibility for managing fishery-related activities from 12 to 50 nautical miles from the islands.

On January 16, 2009, the Secretary of the Interior delegated his management responsibilities for the monument to the Fish and Wildlife Service through Secretary’s Order 3284. Through this order, the Secretary extended the boundaries of Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, and Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuges to 12 nautical miles from the mean low water line of each island. He also established a Wake Island Unit of the monument to be managed as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System out to 12 nautical miles from the mean low water line of the islands, with the Department of the Air Force continuing to manage the emergent lands as described above.

Many were surprised when President Bush — who spent 8 years weakening environmental protection in the U.S. — created the monuments, but perhaps he knew that the federal agencies would not actually enforce his fishing ban, and thus the act was not so high-minded and green after all.

The full text of the Marine Conservation Institute petition to the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce is available at: www.marine-conservation.org.

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