NOAA 2001-019
Contact: Connie Barclay


The Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve has been finalized. Completion of the reserve followed a 30-day public comment period during which more than 8,400 comments were received through seven public hearings in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., e-mails and written comments.

As a result of these comments, changes were made to strengthen the protections for the Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, and provide greater allowance for existing bottom fishing and recreational fishing activities within the reserve.

"These final changes to the reserve represent an excellent framework to enable us to protect the resource while ensuring local interests are represented," said Robert P. Smith, coordinator of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. "I'm excited about the direction of this program and look forward to the ongoing public process in designating a National Marine Sanctuary."

On Jan. 18, 2001, after consideration of the comments received, certain conservation measures were revised and the Reserve Preservation Areas, with some modifications, were made permanent. With this action, the establishment of the reserve, including the conservation measures and permanent Reserve Preservation Areas, is complete.

Changes to certain conservation measures include:

  • A. Existing trolling for pelagic species by currently permitted bottomfishers is now clearly allowed in the reserve and in some Reserve Preservation Areas (in addition to existing recreational trolling for pelagic species).
  • B. The cap for commercial bottomfishing is revised to make clear that the annual aggregate level for each permitted bottomfisher is that permittee's individual average take over the five years preceding Dec. 4, 2000. Further, the one-time reasonable increase allowed in the total aggregate for the use of two native Hawaiian bottomfishing permits is to be in furtherance of the principles of the reserve.
  • C. Certain exceptions (e.g. gray water, deck wash) to the discharge restrictions are revised to clarify that the excepted discharges must be in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Changes made to the Reserve Preservation Areas include:

  • A. In addition to allowing existing commercial bottomfishing in certain Reserve Preservation Areas, existing trolling for pelagic species by recreational fishers and permitted commercial bottomfishers is also now allowed to occur in such Reserve Preservation Areas;
  • B. The area where existing commercial bottomfishing, and existing trolling for pelagic species by recreational fishers and permitted bottomfishers allowed within the Reserve Preservation Areas is revised to be seaward of a mean depth of 25 fathoms for Nihoa Island, Necker Island, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, and Lisianski Island; and
  • C. Commercial bottomfishing, and trolling for pelagic species by recreational fishers and permitted bottomfishers is now allowed for five years in the first bank west of St. Rogatien Bank, east of Gardner Pinnacles, and Raita Bank. Such bottomfishing and trolling will continue after five years only if it is determined that continuation of these activities will have no adverse impact on the resources of these banks.

On Dec. 4, 2000, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was established pursuant to the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, as amended by the National Marine Sanctuaries Amendments Act of 2000. The reserve was created after extensive public input was received at a series of public visioning sessions held throughout the main Hawaiian Islands and in Washington, D.C. The reserve encompasses an area of the marine waters, valuable coral reefs, and submerged lands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands extending approximately 1200 nautical miles long and 100 nautical miles wide. As part of the reserve, conservation measures restricting some activities throughout the reserve were established, and Reserve Preservation Areas around certain islands, atolls and banks were created. With certain exceptions, all consumptive uses are restricted within the Reserve Preservation Areas.

Under the act, no closure area can become permanent until opportunity for adequate notice and comment is provided. Accordingly, a 30 day public comment period from December 2000 to January 2001 was held on the conservation measures for the reserve and whether to make the Reserve Preservation Areas permanent. In order to provide this opportunity for public comment, a Web site was established and seven public hearings were held, six throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, and one in Washington, D.C.

The secretary of commerce/NOAA will develop a reserve operations plan for the management of the reserve and begin the process of designating the reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary. Building on the measures established in the reserve, the sanctuary designation process will provide additional opportunity for extensive public input and involvement in determining the future management of this valuable area of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

For further information, please visit the Web site at: