HONOLULU — An environmental group has petitioned the federal government to outline what fines or other penalties it will impose on companies that fish within three marine national monuments in the Pacific.
All commercial fishing was banned in the areas — which lie around Rose Atoll near American Samoa, the Marianas Trench near Saipan, and remote Pacific islands including Palmyra Atoll — when President George W. Bush created the monuments more than three years ago.
The Marine Conservation Institute, a Bellevue, Wash.-based group, said the government's failure to draft rules explaining what kind of penalty it will impose for a violation is holding up its ability to enforce the ban.
The organization last week petitioned the two co-managers of the monuments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to create such rules.
Fishermen or their boats could harm unique ecosystems, the petition said, such as when a fishing vessel sank and damaged coral at Kingman Reef near Palmyra in 2007 or when fishing boat ran aground and spilled 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel at Rose Atoll in 1993.
Nesting sea turtles and the world's largest population of giant clams are at risk, the petition said.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman Wende Goo said the agency is reviewing the petition.
Barry Stieglitz, refuge supervisor at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuges, said he shares the institute's "frustration." But he said his agency has gained responsibilities without winning more funds to help fulfill them.
"The federal fiscal situation is such that we haven't received any additional resources with which to work on implementing the marine national monument," he said.
The agency would need to assign someone full-time to develop the rules, but people who could be given the job are focused on existing projects like getting rid of rats at Palmyra Atoll, he said.
Lesli Bales-Sherrod, a spokeswoman for NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, said there have been cases of commercial fishing in the monuments since 2009 when they were created and commercial fishing was banned.
NOAA enforces the prohibition with outreach, education and verbal warnings, as is the case with NOAA's enforcement of many new regulations, she said.