President Obama Imposes Massive Expansion of National Monument in Hawaii

Published October 10, 2016

Despite objections from many prominent Hawaiians and a federal regional fishing council, President Barack Obama quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM), first created by President George W. Bush in 2006.

PMNM covers much of the northwestern islands of Hawaii. Following the expansion, PMNM has become the largest protected reserve on Earth, comprising about 582,578 square miles, nearly double the size of the State of Texas.

Obama used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to extend the marine reserve’s boundary, banning commercial fishing and mining in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone surrounding the reserve. Obama has created or expanded 25 national monuments since occupying the White House, more than any other president in history.

Presidents have broad authority to designate historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval, thereby protecting those areas from new commercial uses. However, critics of Obama’s executive actions say the Antiquities Act was intended to be used to protect sites of limited acreage from imminent destruction and was intended to limit the scope of a monument to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Hawaiian Leaders Object

According to a report by the Honolulu Civil Beat, at a July 2016 meeting organized to protest expanding the monument, Former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi (D) said he doesn’t want “somebody from the outside” determining how residents can use northwestern Hawaii waters. ¬†

Ariyoshi co-authored a letter protesting the designation, along with former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) and former Gov. Ben Cayetano (D). The letter, which was sent to Obama, read, in part, “The proposed expansion will impact the State’s ability to continue its trust responsibility to native Hawaiians.”

“The native Hawaiian traditional fishing practice to bring fish and other resources back to their families and communities is prohibited in [the monument] area,” Ariyoshi and his co-authors wrote.

Locals Protest

Keli’i Akina, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, says Obama’s decision to expand PMNM is an abuse of power that ignores the desires of the local people.

“With the stroke of a pen, the president expanded the existing marine preserve by 400,000 square miles,” Akina said. “Moreover, he did so in response to lobbying efforts from powerful Washington, DC interests [and] with no effort to consider its long-term effect on the state or even any recognition of the strong opposition to the expansion from local fishermen and leaders.”

Akina says because Hawaiians live so far from Washington, DC, many of them believe their voices count for less in the nation’s capital. Akina says the expansion of PMNM reinforces this view.

The monument expansion was championed by the powerful Pew Charitable Trusts, various environmental groups, and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Akina says PMNM supporters brought on a powerful ally by promising the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state government agency, a role in governing the expanded monument. With these powerful groups allied against them, Akina says the voices of local businesses and citizens weren’t able to get much traction.

“Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered,” said Akina. “Two former Hawaii governors joined with former Sen. Akaka to warn the president against the expansion and received no more consideration than the¬†longline fishermen who protested having their exclusive economic zone around the greater Hawaiian Islands cut by more than 50 percent.

“In their letter to President Obama, these respected former state leaders took issue with the lack of transparency in the process and pointed out no effort had been made to determine the economic impact of the expansion,” Akina said. “Testimony from commercial fisherman who depend on access to the ocean for their livelihood and who were about to see that access cut back dramatically was given less authority than Pew’s blithe assurances the fishing industry would be fine.”

Monument Impacts Jobs

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC), which manages waters around the U.S. Pacific Islands, says Obama’s decision to expand the monument “serves a political legacy.”

“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” Edwin Ebisui Jr., chairman of WPRFMC, said in a statement. “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”

In April, Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association, sent a letter to Obama warning him expansion of the monument sends a message fishing is no longer a socially acceptable activity and the fisheries of Hawaii should be relegated to a second-class industry.

William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, says Republican and Democratic Party presidents have displaced workers and industries by declaring national monuments.

“It’s wrong,” Pendley said. “They do it to make themselves look good, and they don’t care what the impact is.

“Smaller fishermen who may not be able to take their boats out 200 miles before they drop their lines will be especially hard hit,” said Pendley.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Kitty M. Simmons and Edwin Ebisui, Jr., Letter to President Obama from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council Concerning Hawaiian Monument Expansion, July 14, 2016: