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Hawaii Fishermen Raise Concerns About Expansion Of National Monument


In Honolulu this week, President Obama talked about his decision to quadruple the size of a marine preserve off Hawaii's coast that was first established under President George W. Bush.


BARACK OBAMA: This is an area twice the size of Texas that's going to be protected and allows us to save and study the fragile ecosystem threatened by climate change.

SHAPIRO: Conservationists celebrated that move, and we heard from one of them on this program last week. Now we're going to hear from someone who is concerned about this expansion. Michael Goto is in Hawaii's fish auction business. He joins us via Skype. Welcome.

MICHAEL GOTO: Thank you for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, describe the role that fishing plays in Hawaii.

GOTO: Well, fish in the state of Hawaii is really a cultural staple that really traces back to our Asian heritage, back to Japan, about raw fish consumption, whether it was the original sashimi raw ahi consumption or the ever-growing and popular poke market coming out.

SHAPIRO: Poke, of course, is the dish of chopped fish tossed with soy sauce and other delicious things. How do you expect the expansion of this marine preserve to change local fishing practices?

GOTO: Well, it's definitely going to restrict it even further than what it already is restricted. We are under very taut management regime for U.S. fisheries. And now to lose more fishing grounds, specifically U.S. fishing grounds, in our Hawaii exclusive economic zone is going to further push the fishing fleet out into the open ocean, to the high seas, to actually directly compete with foreign fisheries in the same area, so...

SHAPIRO: You refer to the Hawaii exclusive economic zone. This is an area that right now only American fishermen are allowed to fish that will now...

GOTO: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...Be closed off to fishing. So you're saying you'll have to compete with foreign fishermen.

GOTO: Correct.

SHAPIRO: You also raise the concern that foreign fishermen will enter this preserve and illegally harvest fish because it's just going to be too big to patrol.

GOTO: Well, it is a possibility, Ari. You know, it can be patrolled by the Coast Guard, by National Marine Fisheries Service enforcement, but basically the biggest watchdogs in the area were always the U.S. fishermen themselves. Without them now to really relay the information, there's virtually no enforcement that could occur in an area for a majority of the year.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to play you something that marine biologist Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara said on this program last week. Let's listen.


DOUGLAS MCCAULEY: In the long run, these are real assets for the fishing community. A protected area essentially sets up a safe zone for fish communities to expand, become more abundant, to grow and mature. And then there's spillover outside of these protected areas that benefits everyone, benefits the fishermen that are catching fish just on the border of these zones.

SHAPIRO: So he's arguing that this will be a good thing for fishermen. How do you respond to that?

GOTO: Well, you know, the science on specifically the bigeye tuna, you know, is still being discovered. You know, it's still a virtual unknown where the breeding grounds are, where the spawning areas are for these fish. So to claim that this particular area is going to enhance breeding spots, you know, it's still conjecture I think.

SHAPIRO: It seems like, ultimately, nobody wants fish populations to collapse. Fishermen and conservationists both want fish populations to expand. That would be good for everyone. Is this just a disagreement over the best way to reach those goals?

GOTO: Well, potentially, Ari. Fishery management is a very complex beast, and there's a lot of different opinions on what the best practice is. Really, I think this is not a piece of that puzzle. I think this is more a legacy builder, unfortunately. Best available science and exploring all avenues - it really hasn't taken place. And coming from the fishing community and the fishing industry, we feel really shortchanged due to that process.

SHAPIRO: I know President Obama is very popular in Hawaii. People there consider him a sort of native son. As you say, this is now part of his legacy. As somebody who doesn't support this move, do you find yourself a bit conflicted?

GOTO: I do, Ari. And, you know, it's actually even more personal for me specifically because on one hand, the president did appoint me to help manage U.S. fisheries. On the other hand, the entire process of the Antiquities Act deserves more time, more discussion - really have to engage the stakeholders directly rather than the stakeholders having to formulate their own coalition in itself to have their voice heard. And I think the more appreciation that the president could have of what the industry is and what it means to the community of Hawaii, you know, he'd have a - if anything, a much bigger understanding of that and kind of preserving it for the future.

SHAPIRO: Michael Goto is a manager of the United Fishing Agency and he's a member of the Hawaii Longline Association. Thanks for joining us.

GOTO: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.