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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 8, 2004

Plan OKs limited fishing in haven

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

A federal proposal for a marine sanctuary in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands would ban all longline and coral reef fishing, but permit a variety of other commercial and recreational activity throughout the area.

The proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is designed to protect the delicate ecological balance around the islands while allowing activities that do not threaten them, according to details presented to a local advisory board in Waimanalo yesterday.

The NOAA recommendations "ensure that the marine ecoystems of this vast area, unique in the world, remain healthy and diverse," said Daniel Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

However, critics said the proposal does not go far enough in protecting the area, one of the last large-scale, intact, predator-dominated coral reef ecosystems in the world.

"We're certainly disappointed," said Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve advisory council, which has drawn up a more protective sanctuary proposal.

"Many of the activities they are proposing are not appropriate for a sanctuary," Achitoff said.

Under the NOAA proposal, pelagic longline fishing, harvesting of coral, coral reef species fishing and non-subsistence crustacean fishing would be banned throughout the 221,013-square-mile area.

However, many other activities, including commercial bottom fishing and deep-sea trolling, recreational and sustenance fishing and Native Hawaiian cultural and subsistence uses, would be permitted in some areas.

In all, about half of the proposed sanctuary stretching from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll would be open to some commercial activity.

"It's a very political issue," Achitoff said. "It seems there are a small number of commercial bottom-fish fishermen out there who have an influence far out of proportion to their numbers."

Much of the area of reefs and islands lying some 1,000 miles beyond Kaua'i is already protected as a reserve under a pair of executive orders issued by President Clinton in 2000.

Giving the reserve federal marine sanctuary status would assure that the protection is made permanent, supporters say. "The reserve should be the baseline from which this sanctuary is built," said Cha Smith, executive director of Kahea, The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance.

About one-quarter of the 7,000 species in the area, including marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, birds and invertebrates, are believed to be found nowhere else in the world.

For the sanctuary to become a reality, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, which regulates fishing in the area, has to present a proposal to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has final say in whether the group's proposal meets sanctuary standards. If approved, the Northwestern Islands would become the 14th national marine sanctuary.

The fisheries council does not have to abide by the NOAA recommendations, however, and is developing its own proposal for sanctuary regulations.

"We've been working for four years on this process and now West Pac wants to do an end run around it," Smith said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5460.