Protecting Hawaii’s Fisheries

May 6, 2022 | General Information

Table of Contents
Hawaii has a $100 million tuna industry. Hawaii’s fishing industry is governed and managed by federal law and members of Congress are trying to figure out how to improve federal law governing the management of U.S. coastal waters. Conservationists and commercial fishing industry leaders recently have been discussing the urgent need to restructure the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Passed in 1976, and revised twice, the law still needs revisions that account for climate change impacts. Hotter and more acidic oceans are shifting fish migration patterns and affecting stocks.

MSA and its revisions created exclusive waters for U.S. fishermen between three and 200 miles offshore.The last revision of MSA was in 2007, adding annual catch limits, which helped to reduce overfishing. Fishing industry issues and management involves politics at all levels, in both Hawaii and Washington, DC. Reforming the MSA involves a challenging quest for common ground among all of the parties involved.

MSA appears to be showing positive impacts on overfishing. The latest annual fisheries report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that overfishing in U.S. waters is now at an all-time low. At the same time, the value of seafood landed by the nation’s fisheries is at a record high. Honolulu remains a top port by volume and value of seafood landed. The biggest catch by Hawaii’s fishermen is bigeye tuna from the longline fleet.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was established in December 2000 by President Clinton’s Executive Order. It directed establishment of a Reserve Advisory Council (RAC) in accordance with the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. The counsil is a community-based advisory group providing consultation on resource management issues affecting the Reserve.

In 2006 The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation. Its purpose was to protect natural and cultural resources in Hawaii. A year later it was given its Hawaiian name, Papahanaumokuakea. The name is difficult to pronounce but very important to know about in Hawaiian culture. Papahanaumokuakea commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors — Papahanaumoku and Wakea – who gave rise to the Hawaiian Archipelago, the taro plant, and even to the Hawaiian people.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag. It also is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean — an area larger than all the nation’s national parks combined. When in 2006 the Reserve became part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the RAC became the Papahanaumokuakea Reserve Advisory Council. For members of the council the most urgent need is to bring Native Hawaiians and conversation advocates into the process of revising fishery laws and management in response to climate change. In addition, all parties discussing these challenges agree on the need for much more flexible and adaptive fisheries management.