Public input sought on fishing regulations

A series of public meetings hosted by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will take place throughout November to review fishing regulations for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Monument Expansion Area, or MEA.

The MEA is adjacent to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and was expanded in 2016 under President Barack Obama to include over 583,000 square miles, making it one of the largest conservation areas on Earth and larger than all of America’s national parks combined.


“Recently, the (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has moved to designate the (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands) as a National Marine Sanctuary, which also requires fishing regulations,” council members said. “Since noncommercial fishing is allowed, the council is providing this opportunity to hear what the public thinks about fishing both in the MEA and any potential sanctuary.”

Options include maintaining the status quo, where fishing regulations would mirror those in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, along with requiring a federal subsistence fishing permit for Native Hawaiian practices.

“It may be easier to manage and enforce fishing regulations in the MEA if they align with the existing monument regulation framework,” said David Sakoda, state of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources manager, in a press release.

The council is hoping to clarify the regulations already in place, including what qualifies as subsistence fishing. Subsistence fishing commonly refers to fishing, other than for sport, that is carried out primarily to feed the family and relatives of the person doing the fishing.

“There are also a couple of definitions of subsistence fishing on which the council would like the community to comment,” council representatives said. “Fishing in the 50- to 200-mile area around the (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands) has historically been commercial fishing grounds, but the regulations being developed would encourage noncommercial fishing in the present or the future.”

The council plans to prioritize and understand the needs of the indigenous community in order to make informed decisions about fishing regulations. In addition to addressing subsistence fishing, the council hopes to learn more about historical uses of the area, customary exchanges, and any other demand for access to fishery resources.

“We hope the community is willing to share their connection to the (Northwestern Hawaii Islands) and how the fisheries should be managed based on the available information,” council reps said. “If anyone has any other fishery-related issues, they can also be shared at this time.”

The area is between 50 and 200 miles from shore, and averages more than 4,000 meters deep. It is home to a vast wildlife population including over 7,000 species of marine life, one quarter of which is found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

“Nearly all of the bottom habitat that may be unique or home to organisms of concern is found within 50 miles from shore and are already protected,” according to the council. “Most of the area is deep, pelagic waters with a soft sediment bottom that is similar around the Pacific. Pelagic species live in the water column of the open ocean — neither close to the bottom nor near the shore — and include tuna and billfish.”

Originally designated in 2006 to help protect and sustain Hawaii’s marine life and cultural sites, the council decided in September to make an amendment to its Hawaii Fishery Ecosystem Plan on whether or not to manage noncommercial fishing, and to determine if subsistence fishing should be managed separately.

Commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities are currently prohibited, but recreational fishing and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices is allowed in the expansion area by permit, as is scientific research.

Hilo’s meeting will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday in the Ho‘omalemale Room at the Grand Naniloa Hotel.

An additional meeting will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Discovery Room at the Royal Kona Resort.

Additional information can be found at

For any questions and concerns about the meeting, please email

Comments from the meeting will be submitted to the council for consideration, and final action on fishing regulations for the MEA will take place in December.

Email Grant Phillips at

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