PRI National Marine Sanctuary Designation Process - Frequently Asked Questions
Would the proposed sanctuary designation change the protections or size of the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument?
- The proposed national marine sanctuary designation would not replace or diminish the existing protections for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, but would add additional protections under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act to safeguard resources in the marine portions of the monument.
- The proposed sanctuary designation would also include the submerged lands and waters beyond the boundary of the existing monument to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. The total area in the proposed sanctuary designation would be about 770,000 square miles, which is 274,811 square miles larger than the existing monument at 495,189 square miles.
Would a proposed national marine sanctuary include all of the existing monument area?
A proposed national marine sanctuary would only be considered for the marine portions of the monument below the mean high tide line. It would not include the land areas above the mean high tide line.
Would additional waters surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument be included in the proposed sanctuary designation?
The proposed national marine sanctuary designation includes the marine areas within the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and the unprotected submerged lands and waters around Howland and Baker Islands, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. This additional area is about 274,811 square miles. The land areas of the monument above the mean high tide would not be included in the sanctuary. The size of the entire proposed sanctuary is about 770,000 square miles.
How does sanctuary designation provide added protection to an area already managed by a marine national monument?
- The proposed sanctuary designation will augment and strengthen existing protections for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument ecosystems, living resources, and cultural and maritime heritage resources through the addition of sanctuary regulations.
- If the sanctuary is designated, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) would enhance resource protection, increase regulatory compliance, ensure enforceability of protections, provide natural resource damage assessment authorities, provide for interagency consultation, expand the opportunities to conduct research and monitoring, and educate and interpret for the public the significance of this area.
- Any future changes to the proposed sanctuary's regulatory and management structure would need to follow the requirements of the NMSA, NEPA, and the APA.
Would sanctuary designation change the co-management structure of the monument?
Sanctuary designation would not change the existing management of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which is co-managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA.
Why does this area need additional protection?
- Designation as a national marine sanctuary would complement the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA to conserve the nationally significant ecosystems and cultural resources of this area.
- The ecosystems are increasingly under pressure from threats such as marine debris, invasive species, and climate change.
- National marine sanctuary designation would provide additional protections to safeguard resources in the marine portions of the monument. Proposed sanctuary designation includes expanding protections to include those unprotected submerged lands and waters to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
Besides added protection, what are other benefits of National Marine Sanctuary designation?
NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries offers extensive education, outreach, and research opportunities under the auspices of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Sanctuary designation will allow development of these programs, and will ensure the full benefits and expertise offered by the National Marine Sanctuary System and staff.
Could sanctuary designation decrease the current protections in the monument?
No. The level of protection within the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument that is currently in effect would not be reduced by a national marine sanctuary designation. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act and its implementing regulations, as well as site-specific regulations, would enhance resource protection, increase regulatory compliance, ensure enforceability of protections, provide natural resource damage assessment authorities, and provide for interagency consultation.
How would sanctuary designation impact recreational use of this area?
NOAA can't fully answer this question at this stage in the process. However, in other designated sanctuaries, NOAA continues to allow responsible recreational use but may use regulatory or non-regulatory means to ensure that such uses have minimal impact to the resource. For example, a sanctuary may have regulations that may limit "taking, harassing or harming" wildlife, and use other non-regulatory means, such as education and outreach, to encourage the public to responsibly view wildlife.
What are existing recreational restrictions in the monument?
Public entry to the islands is by special-use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is generally restricted to scientists and educators.
Non-commercial and charter fishing in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) are prohibited, except as authorized under a permit issued pursuant to Title 50 CFR 665 Subpart H. A vessel used to fish non-commercially in the PRIMNM must be registered to a valid permit issued under that authority. Customary exchange is prohibited for fish taken under both the non-commercial and charter PRIMNM fishing permits.
Is fishing currently allowed in the monument?
Commercial fishing is prohibited in the existing monument.
Non-commercial and charter fishing in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are prohibited, except as authorized under a permit issued pursuant to Title 50 CFR 665 Subpart H. A vessel used to fish non-commercially in the PRIMNM must be registered to a valid permit issued under that authority. Customary exchange is prohibited for fish taken under both the non-commercial and charter Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument fishing permits.
How does the national marine sanctuary designation process affect fisheries management?
- National marine sanctuaries conserve marine species and ecosystems while promoting compatible uses, and have a long history of working with recreational and commercial fishermen and the Council management system under the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
- Pursuant to section 304(a)(5) of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, NOAA would provide the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council with the opportunity to propose any draft fishing regulations it may deem necessary to fulfill the proposed goals and objectives of a proposed sanctuary. This role creates a process for NOAA to leverage and learn from the Council's expertise, as well as familiarity with the resources and the fishing activities in the region.
- NOAA's decision to reject or accept a Council's recommendation is determined on a case-by-case basis. NOAA may use the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or both, as appropriate, to promulgate and implement any regulations recommended by the Council or otherwise address fishery management requirements.
- NOAA will accept the Council's recommended fishing regulations (including a recommendation that no additional fishing regulations are necessary) and, as appropriate, issue them as proposed regulations unless NOAA determines that the recommendation does not fulfill the purposes and policies of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary.
- Outside of the section 304(a)(5) process, the Council will continue to manage fishing within a national marine sanctuary under the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided that such management is consistent with applicable sanctuary regulations.
Why is NOAA choosing to move forward with the designation process?
The Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, based in Hawaii, submitted a national marine sanctuary nomination in early March 2023 to NOAA through its Sanctuary Nomination Process. On March 24, 2023, President Biden directed the Secretary of Commerce to consider initiating the designation process for a proposed national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands area. That same day, the Commerce Department directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to initiate a process to consider designating all U.S. waters around the Pacific Remote Islands as a national marine sanctuary. NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is moving forward with the process to consider the designation of a new national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands area.
What is the process for designating a national marine sanctuary?
The process to designate a new sanctuary is highly public and participatory, and consists of the following steps:
- Scoping -- NOAA publishes a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register announcing its intent to consider designating a new national marine sanctuary, including preparation of a draft environmental impact statement and initiation of the the scoping process to ask the public for input on potential boundaries, resources that could be protected, and other issues or information that NOAA should consider in the analysis.
- Sanctuary Proposal Development -- NOAA assesses input received during the initial scoping period. NOAA will prepare draft designation documents, including a draft management plan and a draft environmental impact statement that analyzes a range of alternatives, including proposed regulations and proposed boundaries for the sanctuary. NOAA may also form an advisory council to help inform the proposal and focus stakeholder participation.
- Sanctuary Proposal Release and Public Review -- Through public meetings and in writing, NOAA encourages the public to review and comment on the draft environmental impact statement, draft management plan, and notice of proposed rulemaking. NOAA will consider all input and determine appropriate changes to the designation documents;
- Sanctuary Designation -- NOAA will make a final decision on whether to designate the site as a national marine sanctuary and, if so, issue a notification of designation, and final regulations, environmental impact statement,and management plan. Before the designation becomes effective, Congress would have the opportunity to review the final documents. If the sanctuary is located partially or entirely within state waters, the Governor certifies to the Secretary of Commerce that the designation or any of its terms is unacceptable, in which case the designation or the unacceptable term shall not take effect in the area of the sanctuary lying within the seaward boundary of the state.
What comments are being requested during the initial scoping comment period?
During scoping, NOAA specifically requests comments on the following topics:
- the spatial extent of the proposed sanctuary, and boundary alternatives NOAA should consider;
- the location, nature, and value of resources that would be protected by a sanctuary;
- specific threats to these resources;
- the regulatory framework most appropriate for management of the proposed sanctuary;
- the non-regulatory actions NOAA should prioritize within its draft management plan for the proposed sanctuary;
- the potential socioeconomic, cultural, and biological impacts of sanctuary designation;
- information regarding historic properties in the entire area under consideration for a sanctuary designation and the potential effects to those historic properties; and
- other information relevant to the designation and management of a national marine sanctuary.