For the past two years the newly formed Native and Indigenous Rights (NIR) Advisory Panel to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC), has lobbied on behalf of Indigenous fishing rights for Pacific Island fisheries under Federal jurisdiction.

The lobbying by this, the most economically disadvantaged sector of Hawaii's population, resulted in them successfully obtaining two permits to fish in an area known as the Mau Zone which is located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The permits were issued for use in a Community Development Program.

Although the Hawaiian community is economically disadvantaged, the Hawaii members of the NIR panel to the WPRFMC, are recommending that the two permits not be used until they are certain it will not contribute to the extinction of a Hawaiian Endangered Species. Information has recently come to their attention that the Hawaiian Monk Seal population has declined by approximately sixty percent during the last forty years.

The Mau Zone includes an area which encompasses Nihoa and Necker Islands, but falls just short of the French Frigate Shoals, home to many Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals. Several Hawaiian Monk Seal pups have been discovered in a state of malnutrition at the French Frigate Shoals.

Major efforts were taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA)/National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to relocate and rehabilitate the emaciated pups.

Many Seals have died during rehabilitation and some of the more recently relocated Monk Seals became blind, while being rehabilitated in captivity.  These blind Seals were subsequently shipped out to San Antonio Texas because the cost of caring for them in their native islands is too high.

Over the past 5 years, the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), a Federal Agency, has expressed concerns that certain fishing activities in this area are contributing to the decline detected in the Monk seal population.

Beginning in 1994, the MMC began requesting NOAA/NMFS, to shut down the commercial fisheries around French Frigate Shoals, to help the reduce the starvation of Monk Seals in the area.

From November 30, 1994 through December 31, 1998, the MMC has sent at least eight letters to Mr. Rolland Schmitten, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, requesting the commercial fisheries around French Frigate Shoals be closed to protect the Endangered Seals.

Although the MMC has continually requested action from NOAA/NMFS,  under whose jurisdiction the WPRFMC lies, nothing has been done to address this issue. Because of this, the Hawaii members of the NIR panel to the WPRFMC, have decided to make a token contribution to this Endangered Species. They are requesting that any Hawaiian Community Development Group wishing to apply for the two Mau Zone permits wait  until it can be determined to be safe for the Native Seals.

The Hawaii members of the NIR Advisory Panel are taking a stand for what they believe is right. They say they would like to exercise their inherent rights to gather the resources in the Northwestern Islands for food and to help their people economically. But, they also say that before they can exercise their inherent rights, they must first exercise their inherent responsibility.

Contact: Mr. Isaac D. Harp
Telephone: (808) 661-4527
Fax: (808) 661-5473


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