My Incredible Fish Story – An Incredible Achievement

The no-take zone at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands has resulted in the recovery of marine life, including large tuna. Tuna numbers have increased in the main unprotected Hawaiian Islands due to fallout from the protected area. I wrote that it would happen about twenty years ago.

Never think for a minute that what you say or do won’t make a difference. Major international meetings such as COP27 can lead to feelings of helplessness and futility, but as Greta Thunberg has shown, one individual can spark a movement that inspires a generation. Even something as small as an online comment submitted to the federal government can make a difference.

About 20 years ago, a coalition of native Hawaiians, environmental activists, government scientists and political leaders began working on a proposal to create a marine sanctuary and no fishing zones around the remote islands. of northwest Hawaii. Some of these islands were once inhabited by native Hawaiians who left behind important cultural artifacts. These islands, including Midway Island, were of military importance during World War II, but were too small and too remote from the heavily populated main islands to sustain an economically viable human population. On the other hand, they are an essential habitat for birds and marine life. There was an opportunity to create a sanctuary and restore habitat, but a few large commercial fishing operations were still profiting from catching the most commercially valuable marine species. They had political connections on the islands. A key to the political success of the proposed sanctuary would be to win over the large community of people involved in recreational commercial fishing and local small-scale commercial fishing on the main islands.

NOAA had an online page seeking public comment. I wrote a comment. (I think that was an earlier solicitation than the one I just linked to.) I thought that was the last time I would see her.

One day at the beach months later, I was talking to one of my body surfing buddies, Eldon. Eldon was not only an excellent body surfer. He was an exceptional fisherman who made, in the Japanese-Hawaiian tradition, the best poke, by far, that I have ever eaten. Eldon, said to me, “I saw what you wrote in the Hawaii Fishing News. I had no idea what he was talking about. “I wrote nothing for Hawaii Fishing News“, I replied. But I had. They had picked up and published my comment to NOAA on the proposed marine sanctuary in Hawaii Fishing News. I haven’t seen that comment since I saw it there. so many years ago in the Hawaii Fishing News, but I know what the crux of the comment was, we had to establish a marine protected area with a no-fishing zone in the northwest Hawaiian Islands to be a marine sanctuary for the Pacific and the world. If we did, it would serve as a nursery and place of refuge for marine life and bird life and populations would recover. Over time, vibrant fish stocks would develop in the main Hawaiian Islands.

What I wrote caught the attention of the Hawaiian fishing community. It fit with traditional Hawaiian beliefs about conservation and it made sense. The fishing community supported the proposed marine sanctuary. NOAA has worked hand in hand with Hawaiian cultural practitioners to gain their support. Democrats and Republicans have bought into the establishment of a national marine monument. A key element in winning this bipartisan support was the benefit to the people of the main islands.

In 2006, after substantial public comment in favor of strong protections for the region, President George W. Bush signed a proclamation creating the Marine National Monument of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The President’s actions have provided the Northwest Hawaiian Islands with the highest form of protection for our nation’s marine environment. Subsequently, through an initiative by the Hawaiian Cultural Working Group of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the monument was given the Hawaiian name Marine National Monument in March 2007. The monument is co-managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife of Ministry of the Interior. Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce and the State of Hawaii, and is now the largest conservation area under the American flag.

The Obama administration quadrupled the area of ​​the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument.

Now, let’s be clear. Many people have worked very hard for many years to make Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument what it is today. My personal role was miniscule. I wrote a few words that helped.

What made me cry with joy was seeing the success of the monument. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the restoration of the Northwest Islands ecosystem would happen so quickly that I would read scientific reports indicating that stocks of large fish, especially tuna, would be seen increasing on the major Hawaiian Islands in my lifetime. It’s a great success story.

Does the trick

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been shown to protect local fish populations. Questions remain, however, about whether they would also work to protect species that migrate or travel great distances. Medoff et al. examined the effectiveness of a recently established – and so far largest – fully protected MPA near Hawai’i, and found clear evidence that the protections given to two migratory species, bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna, resulted in spillover effects previously observed only for resident fish populations. —SNV

From the University of Hawaii press release:

School of Tuna, Hawaii.
Hawaiian Tuna

Carefully placed no-take zones can help restore iconic tunas and other large fish species, says a study published in Science run by two universities in Hawaii among the researchers of Mānoa.

It is well known that no-take areas can benefit sedentary marine life, such as corals or lobster. However, until now it was assumed that no marine protected area could be large enough to protect species that travel long distances, such as tunas.

This recovery is good news for the environment and the global tuna fishing industry, which generates $40 billion in revenue every year and supports millions of jobs around the world.

“We show for the first time that a no-take zone can lead to the recovery and spillover of a migratory species like bigeye tuna,” the co-author said. John Lynhamteacher at Department of Economics at UH Manoa College of Social Sciences.

Using data collected aboard fishing boats by scientific observers, the study found that the world’s largest no-take zone, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, increased the catch rate of yellowfin tuna by 54% in nearby waters. Catch rate of bigeye tuna (also called ʻahi) increased by 12%; catch rates for all fish species combined increased by 8%.

This is my contribution to the COP27 Climate Briefs. International efforts to act on the climate crisis are very frustrating, but success is possible and you never know when something you are doing could contribute to success. Never give up and never lose hope. Even coral reefs seemingly lost to a coral bleaching mass mortality event can recover if fish are fully protected. Even seasoned marine scientists have been shocked by the success of marine protected areas.…

“There is an abundance of fish off the charts, so they were eating all the algae that would smother the dead coral skeletons and make it impossible for the corals to come back, which is happening in other places like the Caribbean,” explained Room.

Protecting the oceans from overfishing, Sala added, allows the ecosystem itself to become more resilient. In highly protected areas, fish populations increase so much that they overflow the boundaries of their zones and help replenish surrounding fishing grounds, in addition to allowing the ocean to capture and store more carbon to mitigate the climate change.

“So if countries want a future for fishing, they need to manage their fishing more responsibly around areas that are set aside to help regenerate the rest of the ocean,” Sala said. For him and his team, the rebirth of the coral reef in Kiribati is a beacon of hope amid so much pessimism around the future of the reefs.

There is great hope, based on real, living science, that environmental restoration is possible and that national and international action can succeed despite all the challenges. And you can make a difference.


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