Am Samoa Governor, Canneries Hope To Fish In Pacific EEZs

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PNA, FFA members to meet in Pago Pago and discuss fishery issues

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 14, 2014) – The Lolo Administration and local cannery officials are hoping to convince the Pacific islands governments — which control the largest fishing grounds in the world — to allow the locally based U.S. fishing fleet to fish in their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) so that fish caught in their EEZs are off loaded in American Samoa and ensure survival of the two local canneries.

The administration plans to make their pitch during a meeting later this month in the territory when representatives of countries who are Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) will be here.

Samoa News learned last week that PNA representatives attending a fisheries meeting in Apia, Samoa, have been invited to Pago Pago to meet with ASG and cannery officials to discuss fishing issues affecting the locally based US fishing fleet.

One big concern for American Samoa is the reduction of fishing days for US vessels in the EEZ of the South Pacific islands of Kiribati, under a new fishing treaty agreement signed last month between the U.S. and FFA’s 17 member countries.

Then yesterday in Australia, the U.S. and Kiribati signed a cooperative arrangement to protect vital marine habitats in the Pacific (See separate story in today’s edition for details).

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said the "proposed visit" by the PNA group "is in the planning stage" and it’s being coordinated by Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele and American Samoa’s members on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council— Marine and Wildlife Resources director Ruth Matagi-Tofiga; Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, and Taulapapa Willy Sword.

"Given the recently negotiated fishing treaty between Kiribati and the US relating to the drastically reduced fishing days for the US. fishing fleet, especially the locally based fleet within the Kiribati EEZ — which is by far the largest compared to the EEZs of the other Pacific Islands— it’s important that we talk to those islands directly," he said.

"The basic objective of this effort is to encourage these Island Countries to allow the US fishing fleet to fish within their EEZs as well as making sure that fish caught within their respective EEZs will be off-loaded in American Samoa. This will ensure that our two canneries' operations are continuously sustained given the economic contributions of these two entities to the Territory's economy," he said.

Neither Taimalelagi nor Matagi-Tofiga immediately responded to Samoa News questions emailed this week about the proposed visit by the PNA and FFA groups.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Lafaele explained that key officials or members of the PNA and FFA will be hosted by ASG, StarKist and Tri Marine with assistance from Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) on Nov. 28.

These officials will make the stopover in Pago Pago before heading to Samoa for the 11th Regular Session of the Commission set for Dec. 1-5.

He said that ASG sought this meeting because, "we found out how relatively insignificant American Samoa was in matters or issues in the Pacific, [and] we have no direct voice in these [WCPFC] meetings, as the federal government represents the U.S. — including the territories — in these important conferences."

During the WCPFC conference in Cairns, Australia last year, Indonesia and Samoa vied to be the next venue for this year's meeting, and Samoa won.

"Given our 'insignificant' voice in these forums, we thought it wise to leverage Samoa's 'victory' and entice these key officials of PNA and FFA over to American Samoa so we can make our voice heard by these very influential decision makers," said Lafaele, who was among the ASG delegation in attendance at the Cairns meeting.

He pointed out that PNA controls the world's largest tuna fishery and Kiribati is not only a key member of PNA but also very important to American Samoa and the Pago Pago-based US tuna fleet.

The recently negotiated $90 million US Pacific Tuna deal lowered fishing days for the American Samoa based US Tuna fleet from 5000 days last year to only 300 days next year, he said.

"Needless to mention, our fishery-based economy will be devastated," Lafaele said. "Hence, the effort that is being extended to key PNA and FFA officials and we are hopeful to establish meaningful dialogue with our Pacific brothers and find common ground to build mutually beneficial economic development relations."

He pointed out that American Samoa has been looking most of the time outward to the U.S. for assistance. "Perhaps solutions to some of our key problems are right here within the region," he noted.

"The Two-Samoa talks, newly initiated trade talks with Tonga, and the recent visit by the Ulu of Tokelau to discuss trade with our Governor, then hosting the PNA/FFA officials at the end of this month, are key steps toward finding our way and taking our rightful position in the Pacific family of countries," he said.

"The end result we're looking for is, of course, to save our fishery-based economy and perhaps there's something that we can offer in return, to assist in the development of our Pacific neighbors," he said.

BACKGROUND

Early last month, the U.S. reached an agreement with the FFA allowing U.S. flagged purse seiners to continue to have fishing access in the EEZs of 17 Pacific Island nations, all members of the FFA.

Under the agreement, the member countries of FFA will receive $90 million from the U.S. government and its tuna industry in return for 8,300 fishing days in 2015 for U.S. flagged purse seiner vessels.

Tri Marine International told Samoa News last month that the company was "shocked to learn that the US Tuna Treaty negotiations resulted in the loss of almost all fishing access to the Kiribati EEZ. American Samoan purse seine vessels will have to reduce their fishing effort in Kiribati waters by more than 95%."

American Tunaboat Association executive director Brian Hallman told Samoa News last month that the "lack of access to Kiribati waters... is a shock and a heavy blow to the U.S. fleet and to the Treaty itself." (See Samoa News edition of Oct. 16 for more details)

PNA member countries are: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

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