What do you do at NOAA Fisheries?
I am the Assistant Regional Administrator for the Pacific Islands Regional Office’s Sustainable Fisheries Division. We are responsible for the conservation and management of federal fisheries around American Samoa, Guam, Hawaiʻi, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and several U.S. Pacific remote island areas.
My work involves overseeing our fishery management initiatives and bringing together NOAA Fisheries resources to fulfill our obligations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This effort is to prevent overfishing and maintain healthy fish stocks important to commercial and non-commercial fisheries. A significant part of our work also involves deploying observers on commercial fishing vessels. The observers collect information on catch and fishing effort and incidental interactions with protected species, such as sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds.
I also coordinate our work with our other divisions, the NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center, and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. We coordinate so that our conservation efforts are aligned and have the maximum impact possible. I would also like to continue to increase our engagement and relationships with our fishing communities and other agencies and partners. By continuing to build and strengthen these relationships, and working together collaboratively, we can more effectively achieve our conservation and management goals.
How did you get interested in fishery management?
I grew up in Hauʻula, a small fishing village on the northeast side of Oʻahu. The ocean was a vital part of our community identity. Growing up, we spent most of our days spear diving, surfing, or catching fish in the ocean and prawns in the mountain streams. I think my first real experience with fishing was in the 4th grade. My uncle Charley Bryant was a commercial akule [bigeye scad] fisherman. We’d come home after school, and he and my cousins would all go to his house to help hemo [separate, unfasten] the akule from the nets. We put the fish in the coolers that would go to the markets in town. At the end of the day we’d get a huge bag of fish and 100 bucks. As a 4th grader, coming home with fish and 100 bucks was amazing! I told my mom I wanted to be a commercial fisherman like my Uncle Charley. When I was old enough to go fishing, I realized pretty quickly that fishing was extremely difficult. More importantly, I was not a good fisherman.
When I went to college at the University of Hawai‘i, I majored in marine conservation. Growing up and spending most of my time in the ocean and mountains, I was really drawn to courses in biology, zoology, and ecosystem and island science. I was never interested in business, or architecture, or psychology, which just seemed so foreign to me. Being a surfer and fisher, I knew I wanted to do something in resource management.
What was your journey to NOAA?
When I was a junior in college at the University of Hawaiʻi, I enrolled in the Marine Option Program. At the time, the science center used to conduct month-long fisheries research cruises to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands during the summer. I was invited to participate as cooperating scientist and deckhand aboard the NOAA research vessel Townsend Cromwell. The work involved setting lobster traps during the day and bottom fishing in the afternoon.
We conducted lobster tagging studies to gather life history and population data for a new lobster stock assessment. We also conducted trials to see if some types of gear configurations and materials were better at catching lobsters than others. There was also a problem with predation by ulua [giant trevally]. Every time fishermen would release undersized and female lobsters, the ulua would follow the boats and eat them before they could reach the bottom. Regulations requiring their release were pretty much ineffective. So the research team explored ways to return these undersized and female lobsters back closer to the ocean floor so the ulua couldn’t get them.
We also collected bottomfish and kona crab specimens that the science center would use for genetics studies. They were trying to see if the fish and crabs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were the same as those in the main Hawaiian Islands or other parts of the Pacific. That was my first real look at the work that goes into fisheries management. I remember that was really cool to me at the time.
After graduating college, I did an internship with the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council in 2000. I helped develop a coral reef fishery management plan that was the nation’s first-ever ecosystem-based fishery management plan. I interned there for about a year before being brought onboard as a full-time staff member. I learned so much about the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and the fishery management process, including the roles and responsibilities of the Council, the regional office, and the science center. I eventually joined NOAA Fisheries in 2008 as a fishery management specialist.
What do you wish people knew or understood more about fisheries management?
In Hawaiʻi, there is a lot of great outreach and information about the basic concepts of fisheries management—like taking only what you need and leaving the smaller fish and spawning females. But I wish people would have a larger global view of fisheries management.
We are doing good things by conserving our local resources. We’re also going out and buying poke bowls made with previously frozen, carbon monoxide-treated tuna from foreign fishing fleets. Those fleets are not as well regulated as our local Hawaiʻi-based fleet. What is worse is that by supporting foreign fisheries with our consumer-purchasing power, we not only undercut our local fishermen’s ability to compete economically. We may also be supporting the growth and proliferation of illegal, unregulated, and underreported foreign fisheries that have significant negative environmental impacts. My wish is that people would ask more questions about where their fish comes from and how that fishery is managed. And if they are buying cheap foreign-caught fish, is it really better for Hawai‘i and for the environment? Probably not.
Some people also think that because the Hawai’i longline fishery sometimes catches protected species, they should not buy Hawaiʻi longline-caught fish. What people don’t realize is that the Hawai‘i longline fleet is one of the most regulated fisheries in the Pacific. It has the most stringent gear requirements to avoid and mitigate protected species interactions. We are consistently trying to lead the way internationally and influence other countries to adopt our mitigation techniques. But, if we don’t support the Hawaiʻi longline fleet, the United States will not have a fishery and will have little to no ability to influence management at the international level.
Is there anything about Pacific Island fisheries that sets it apart from the fisheries in other NOAA regions?
For us, I think it’s the diversity of our fisheries. Our geographic region spans thousands of miles from Hawaiʻi in the North Pacific, to American Samoa in the South Pacific. It also encompasses Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific, and the Pacific remote islands in between them all. We have nearshore coral reef fisheries and offshore bottomfish, shrimp and precious coral fisheries, and open ocean pelagic fisheries that connect all of our island areas together. Collectively, there are literally thousands of marine species that our Pacific Island communities catch and consume. It’s not just the sheer number of species that sets us apart, though. The types of fishing gear people use are pretty diverse and unique. Some places in the Pacific, like Samoa and Saipan, still use traditional fishing methods that haven’t changed much for hundreds of years.
What is your favorite fish to eat and how do you prepare it?
I would say kole [yelloweye or goldeneye tang]. They are a pretty small fish, and you really have to catch a fair amount of them to make a meal. Diving on the reef and catching it yourself makes it that much better. I prefer to prepare kole by deep frying it in a wok until the fins are crispy like a potato chip. And the funny thing about kole is that when you deep fry it, you end up with more oil than you started with!
Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today?
I had a lot of teachers and professors who influenced me. But, I think Dr. Mark Merlin, who was a professor for many of my undergrad studies, really influenced my path toward natural resource conservation. He grew up in the continental United States, but spent a lot of time in the Pacific Islands. He studied cultural and traditional uses of animals and plants (including psychoactive species), and human impacts in tropical island ecosystems. He really helped steer me by talking to me about what classes I wanted to take and what experiences I wanted to have. He made sure I understood that island ecosystem management is not just managing the flora and fauna—it’s about understanding, respecting, and learning from the cultures who depend on them.
What advice would you have for youth interested in a career with NOAA Fisheries?
My advice is to go to college and get a degree in biology, resource management, or one of the other biological sciences. NOAA Fisheries is a science organization. Nearly all of the job opportunities here require a college degree in these disciplines. I also encourage finding opportunities to volunteer or intern with resource conservation agencies and organizations. Not only are you doing a good thing to help our environment, you also gain new skills and practical hands-on experience. Expanding your network of connections can help you land new career opportunities, including with NOAA Fisheries. For those in high school, look out for volunteer opportunities in your community and ongoing educational opportunities with NOAA and the Council. For those already in college, check out our Young Scientist Opportunity, which offers professional scientific research experience and formal training opportunities with NOAA Fisheries.
What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?
I truly appreciate efforts at any level that recognize the contributions of individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds in shaping American history and culture, including the fields of arts, music, and science. As an individual of both Asian and Native Hawaiian ancestry, I am particularly happy that there is an entire month dedicated to recognizing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In Hawai’i, we are used to seeing examples of this, from the naming of state holidays, to public parks, and even sports arenas and buildings. But seeing this at the national level really emphasizes the fact that America—and all of its achievements—are the culmination of contributions from a diverse group of people. We should be proud of that history and acknowledge and recognize these contributions, no matter how big or small.