If you love tuna for its benefits in low-fat protein, thank some of our conservation-minded presidents.
Under Theodore Roosevelt, in 1903, a Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands had its origin as a refuge for seabirds. These were being slaughtered by the thousands to supply the trade in decorative feathers. Roosevelt placed some of the islands, specifically the Midway Atoll, under control of the Navy.
Under agreements with the State of Hawaii and several 20th-century presidents, the area’s limited seabird- protection purpose was expanded to other marine life resources, with stewardship responsibility given over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA (National Atmospherica and Oceanic Administration.)
But “a sea of problems” developed in the oceans over the century. Following expansion of modern fishing-gear technology, with shoreline processing facilities and related infrastructure, many fish stocks were overfished and large marine predators, like seals, tuna or dolphin became depleted to the point of biological endangerment. Pollution of ocean waters from chemicals, nutrient-rich wastewater and agricultural runoff, and increasing acidification under climate change were taking a toll on marine life.
In 2006, President George W. Bush combined several of the earlier, Atoll preserves and expanded the protected area to 140,000 square miles, the largest in the world. The proclamation notes that this refuge is home to 7,000 marine species, almost half of them found nowhere else. And, in recognition of the importance of the islands’ cultural, ancestral traditions of Native Hawaiians, the official name became Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
In 2016, President Barack Obama expanded the PMNM to some 580,00 square miles, or nearly the size of the Gulf of Mexico, making this American, large Pacific-Ocean area off limits to commercial fisheries trawlers.
Considerable earlier research had shown that protected areas can drive recovery of commercially valuable fish species, but a new study (Nature journal in October) brings good news: they can do so outside of them as well. From 2010 through 2019, two Hawaii University biologists and an economist from the University of Wisconsin collected data on two species of tuna from a commercial long-line fishery, caught beyond the PMNM. The found that, after the 2016 expansion of the Monument, the catch rates “soared.” In a win-win for both fish and fishermen, the authors note – as also for tuna fish lovers – their catch climbed by more than 30 percent.
As Teddy would say, conservation is good for business, too.