HONOLULU — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz threw his support behind the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Thursday in a proposal sent to President Barack Obama.
The proposal, which would create the world’s largest marine protected area, expands all the current boundaries with exceptions to the waters around Kauai and Niihau. It also secures a seat at the higher level of the monument’s management for Native Hawaiians.
“The best available science indicates that expanding the PMNM will strengthen an ecosystem that sustains tuna, swordfish, sharks, seabirds, sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals,” Schatz wrote in his letter to the president. “The expanded region contains significant bio-cultural resources and archaeological sites that further justify use of the Antiquities Act.”
He continued: “A thoughtful expansion of the PMNM will continue Hawaii’s long history of sustainable use of land and oceans into the future, and help ensure that we can give our children the legacy of a healthy, vibrant Pacific Ocean.”
The grassroots group that’s been championing the effort within Hawaii, the Expand Papahanaumokuakea Coalition, voiced their support for Schatz’s proposal.
The group is composed of about 50 people, mostly Native Hawaiians from all across the islands with ties to the monument area.
The EPC said if Schatz’s proposal is adopted by the Obama administration, it would quadruple the current monument footprint, while still allowing small boat fishing in crucial areas.
“I think it’s a really good compromise to help alleviate some of the concerns that were raised on Kauai by the fishing community about their access to the waters that are surrounding Papahanaumokuakea,” said Sol Kahoohalahala, a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, which pushed for expansion.
The new proposal would allow fishing in areas popular with smaller boats from the islands of Kauai and Niihau, said William Aila, deputy director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
“A lot of their fish ends up at luau parties, at family gatherings, whereas all of the long line fish gets sold on the auction block,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced the monument expansion is a good idea.
Hawaii Longline Association president Sean Martin said important fishing grounds would still be lost. He also pointed out that longline fishermen have been operating in the area for decades and the area is still pristine.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it,” Martin said.
While grateful for the concession to fishermen near Kauai, some of the 3,400 small-boat fishermen that are part of the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition are concerned about the proposal, which they say would make it harder to conduct research tracking fish migration, said Phil Fernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition.
“We see no conservation benefit other than large environmental groups saying the more you have marine protected area, the better the Earth will be,” Fernandez said.
The area’s cultural significance, scientific richness, historic importance, and the potential for deep-sea mining for minerals used to make cellphones are reasons cited for expanding the monument.
Many Native Hawaiians believe life began in the waters around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Three probable new species of fish were recently discovered in the monument.
“We have generations of children yet unborn that are going to be the beneficiaries of this place, and we should be ensuring that we leave them a place that is going to be kept well for their use,” Kahoohalahala said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.