Photo: Hikers on Nihoa
Marcus Murray and Kahiau Pilialoha-Hong examine the view from a pu‘u on Nihoa. - Photo: Brad Ka‘aleleo Wong

Native Hawaiian and environmental groups continued to call for the preservation of existing protections for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, amid media reports that the White House was considering lifting fishing prohibitions in several marine monuments.

On Aug. 24, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke concluded a 120-day review of 27 national monuments expanded or designated by presidents since 1996. President Trump ordered the review to determine whether the monuments were established or expanded appropriately and to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to offer input. Zinke released a public statement and a summary that included little detail and no mention of specific recommendations. But national media reported that a final report, which was not immediately released to the public, was submitted to the president containing recommendations to modify a handful of monuments, by reducing either their sizes or resource protections. No monuments were apparently recommended to be eliminated.

“OHA continues to stand firmly behind the countless Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, scientists, conservationists and others who called for the creation and recent expansion of Papahānaumokuākea,” OHA said in a statement. “OHA strongly believes that the current size, protections and management structure of the monument – including OHA’s role as co-trustee – must be maintained in order to preserve the unique historic, cultural and scientific elements of the region.” OHA also advocated for the release of the final report so that stakeholders could review it.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents can declare federally controlled lands a national monument and require protections for cultural and natural resources located in the area.

Papahānaumokuākea – the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area in the United States – was created in 2006 and expanded in 2016. The Hawaiian traditional and cultural significance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was recognized in the establishment of the monument. This recognition supported the inclusion of OHA in the co-management structure of Papahānaumokuākea, working with federal and state partners to assure that the rights and interests of Native Hawaiians are represented in day-to-day management activities. OHA is also responsible for convening the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, an advisory body to the co-managers of the monument.

“OHA continues to stand firmly behind the countless Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, scientists, conservationists and others who called for the creation and recent expansion of Papahānaumokuākea.”

President George W. Bush’s proclamation establishing Papahānaumokuākea sought to phase out commercial fishing from the region by 2011, and President Barack Obama’s expansion of the monument extended the commercial fishing ban into the newly included area. At the time of printing, it was unclear if and when President Donald Trump was going to implement any of the DOI’s recommendations.

“The possibility that resource protections for Papahānaumokuākea could be removed is still concerning for many supporters of the monument,” said Keola Lindsey, OHA’s Papahānaumokuākea program manager. “The area now known as Papahānaumokuākea has been the scene of devastating resource exploitation that resulted in the implementation of necessary protections.”

The first conservation actions in the area were in response to international poachers slaughtering thousands of seabirds for their feathers. An oyster fishery was destroyed and a unique and once thriving species has never recovered. In 2000 a federal court ordered the closure of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands lobster fishery until federal agencies conducted proper assessments. The lobster fishery has never reopened.

The recent boundary expansion took into account the concerns of local fishermen and ocean users and areas important to these stakeholders were left open. Large-scale fishing advocates like the Hawaiʻi-based longline fleet expressed concern about the expansion. Official records from the fleet that are maintained by the federal government show that in recent years, as little as 5 percent of the fleet’s total catch came from the expansion area. The expansion did not reduce overall catch; it simply changed where all fishing effort now occurs. National Marine Fishery Service records show that the Hawaiʻi longline fleet will reach their 2017 quota of 3,100 metric tons of tuna by September 1. As they have in previous years, the fleet will then be allowed to buy quota from other U.S. territories in the Pacific and resume fishing until the end of the year.

National media reported that 90 percent of the 2.4 million public comments received in the review called for not reducing monument protections. In addition, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Zinke’s summary, released on Aug. 24, recognized that the public comments were “overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments” and that “some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community.”

However, Zinke also noted that the boundaries of some monuments “could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management” and that several monuments are controversial because they include significant private property or impacted public access and local industry, such as mining, hunting and fishing.