HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A Hawaii-based coalition’s effort to expand the Remote Pacific Islands Marine National Monument is getting pushback from the fishery council crated by Congress to oversee that area of the Pacific.
The national monument makes up nearly 500,000 square miles of open ocean, coral reefs and island habitats south of Hawaii.
The Pacific Remote Islands Coalition wants to extend the monument around two sets of islands from 50 miles to 200 miles.
“Places like these remote islands, atolls and reefs represent some of the priority areas that we need to protect that would have minimal impact to other interests, such as fishing,” said coalition member Kekuewa Kikiloi.
But the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, meeting in Honolulu this week, has taken a hard stand against the proposal, saying it would take away jobs in American Samoa, where about 85% of the economy is dependent on the tuna industry.
“We have some concerns because this is going to impact not only the U.S. fishermen, but also the fishermen that support these small communities,” said council chair Archie Soliai. He is also the director of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources.
On top of that, Soliai said the smaller islands were not consulted.
“I didn’t think that Hawaii in support of the proposed expansion showed alofa, or love, aloha, to American Samoa,” he said.
Supporters of the expansion said there would be several conservation benefits.
“Expanding the Pacific Remote Islands is really an intentional act that we can take now to do our part as human beings in perpetuity for future generations,” said Naia Lewis, another coalition member.
“Over the past two decades I’ve sort of dedicated my life to the establishment of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, and there’s so much good that came out of that effort,” said Kikiloi.
Soliai said the expansion could happen at any time with President Biden’s signature.
Without public hearings, he said that would be unfair.
“We certainly feel that conservation is very important to sustaining our resources, but it’s got to be science-based,” Soliai said. “There’s got to be evidence that there will conservation benefits, and that has not been shown.”
The fishery council said it would inform the White House of its concerns. A spokesperson for the coalition said it is still hopeful the president will approve the expansion.
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