Am. Samoa Fishing Company Seeks Level Playing Field

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Tri Marine wants conservation enforcement over foreign operators

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 7, 2014) – Tri Marine International has shared with the federal government, the company’s "growing concerns" about the US leadership in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission when it comes to making sure that all country members comply with conservation agreements.

The concerns were cited in an Oct. 28 letter from Tri Marine’s director of environmental policy Matthew Owens to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The company was commenting on proposed new restrictions on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) in 2015.

In the letter, Owens explained that Tri Marine operates a fleet of ten U.S. owned and flagged tuna purse seine vessels which are subject to the regulations promulgated by NOAA to implement the Conservation and Management Measures adopted by the Commission.

The operation of these vessels is essential to supply a new cannery and fresh and frozen fish processing operation the company is opening in December this year in American Samoa, he explained.

While the proposed new rules will not come into effect unless the Commission takes action to ensure that they do not create a "disproportionate burden of conservation action" on small island developing states, Owens said, the company wants to express some of its growing concerns about U.S. leadership in the Commission that impact the effectiveness of FAD restrictions.

One concern shared by Owens is the lack of timely and effective conservation measures to protect the important tuna fishery in the Pacific. And the second is that there is little or no evidence that other countries with purse seine fleets are implementing and enforcing the current conservation measures for the fishery, or meeting other Commission obligations, particularly with regard to data collection.

"It is time that the United States establish assertive policies to make this regional fishery management organization more successful," he said, and noted that in light of President Obama’s new Task Force on Seafood Fraud and IUU Fishing, these new policies should include investigations and certifications of other nations whenever a country’s fishing operations are diminishing the effectiveness of the Commission’s conservation and management measures.


Tri Marine says that International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) most recent Status of Stocks Report, which compiles the science of each of the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, found that while most tuna stocks are in sound shape, one notable exception is bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

This stock, said Owens, continues to experience overfishing, and has now been designated as overfished, whereby the stock is below the commonly accepted limit reference point of 20% of the equilibrium spawning biomass that would exist in the absence of fishing.

"Although the Commission has measures in place to address this issue, they are ineffective," Owens said. "The new proposed regulations with further restrictions on FAD fishing are an expansion of this conservation effort, but they will be insufficient to return the population of bigeye from its overfished condition if current exemptions to the measure and lack of enforcement remain unchanged."

Owens says Tri Marine supports conservation measures to regulate fishing at sustainable levels, including managing FAD use, provided that those measures and regulations are universally applied, are scientifically based, and can be reasonably expected to achieve agreed conservation and management objectives for target and non-target species.

"Furthermore, whatever measures are agreed upon for FAD management should be accompanied by measures to limit fishing capacity for both purse seiners and longliners," he said.


Owens pointed out that NOAA publishes its efforts to implement the Commission’s conservation and management measures and its enforcement actions, as it must.

However, "no one seems to have comparable information about whether other member nations implement and enforce the same measures. Because the Commission still lacks a transparent system for determining if member nations actually comply, we cannot be sure if foreign purse seine fleets are implementing the same conservation requirements NOAA imposes on the U.S. fleet," he said. Some reports indicate that they are not."

For example, a recent report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation stated that the China Tuna Industry Group, which was seeking to raise funds for its operations, admitted that "China had exceeded the catch quotas for bigeye tuna for three of the last four years", he claimed.

Moreover, Commission documents confirm that certain member countries are refusing to submit detailed operational data critical to stock assessment, contrary to obligations under the treaty created by the Commission.

Owens argued that NOAA and its personnel should be intimately familiar with what is happening in the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery and should be pressing other countries more affirmatively to achieve compliance and meet established conservation goals.

These can be achieved with simple measures, such as NOAA requesting copies of observer reports on other nations’ fishing operations; and asking for copies of implementing regulations and records of enforcement actions or charges.

"We believe NOAA has an obligation to the U.S. fleet and the public to be more aggressive in its efforts to bring about more assured sustainability in the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery, a duty based on long-standing statutory policy and authority," he said. "This would also help create a more even playing field for the US tuna industry."

Owens stressed that more needs to be done than only requiring US vessels to implement conservation measures accepted unanimously in the Commission. Before additional FAD regulations are added, resources should be invested in enforcement of current measures with aggressive consequences for those nations that operate outside of the agreed-upon sustainability guidelines necessary for a healthy fishery.

"The US needs to hold other members accountable for complying with these agreements, as the EU has done, and also promote conservation goals more likely to achieve bigeye tuna sustainability than the current Commission measure," he said.

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