HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The debate over fishing regulations at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is heating up again.
The council that helps outline rules for fishing in the federally protected area says it wants to work with the Trump Administration to ease restrictions there, making it easy for Hawaii's commercial fishermen to work in waters around the monument.
Environmental groups are demanding protections remain in place. Some are even calling for an investigation.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council – known as Wespac – is meeting at the Ala Moana Hotel through Thursday. One key issue being discussed is the development of new fishing regulations for the waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Wespac members say Hawaii's longline fishermen have been negatively impacted by the expansion of the national monument, with the fleet being forced to fish in high seas, in competition with other countries.
"We've shut out over half of our exclusive economic zone to our fisherman, and it doesn't make sense in an environment where we're importing fish to feed our own people," said Edwin Ebisui, the council's chair. "The administration has already telegraphed that it wants to streamline regulations and make sure regulations are productive by nature."
Wespac says it was pleased to hear that the new U.S. Secretary of Commerce wants to balance the nation's seafood trade by increasing domestic production. Members say current fishing regulations for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are doing more harm than good.
"It's not helping the stock. In fact, what it does is it forces some of our fleet to go south of our island, intercepting yellowfin tuna, and that's what our charter and non-commercial fishermen depend on," said council member Dean Sensui. "So it's got an additional negative impact."
At the same venue as the Wespac meeting, a coalition of environmentalists and conservationist came together on Tuesday to challenge the council's position.
"Last year, they reached their quota after a few months of fishing," said Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice Mid-Pacific. "They have the rest of the ocean, and I have absolutely no doubt that they can catch their quota in other places."
They say Wespac is taking advantage of what they call an "anti-environmental president," and the group is calling for an investigation into allegations that the council's leadership is unlawfully lobbying the Trump Administration.
"That's not Wespac's job. It's not their authority. Frankly, it's just not legal," Achitoff said. "They're not here to advise the President or anybody else on what the provisions of the monument should be. We want an investigation of senior leadership at West Pac, which has been behind these efforts."
Achitoff says he would like Hawaii's congressional delegation to initiate the investigation.
Meanwhile, Wespac says based on the discussion from its meeting, it will forward recommendations to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for consideration.