Am. Samoa Cannery Exemption A ‘Subsidy,’ Opponent Says

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Tri-Marine plea to exceed fishing limits to hinder conservation: Hines

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Aug. 13, 2015) – Owner of two U.S. companies, which own and manage 14 US purse seiners, says Tri Marine International’s petition to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a form of "commercial subsidy" and says he is voicing their "concern" over the petition, an update from their "original objection".

Tri Marine’s petition seeks an emergency exemption on the 2015 limit on fishing efforts by U.S. purse seine vessels. If granted, the exemption would allow US flagged purse seiners that offload 50% of their catch at the local canneries to fish in the US EZZ and on the high seas.

As reported Tuesday in Samoa News, the petition was the product of the American Samoa Fisheries Task Force, and was submitted by Tri Marine as a favor to the task force.

J. Douglas Hines, partner and owner of Ocean Global LLC and Sea Global LLC, wrote two separate letters — one in May and the second on June 3, strongly opposing the petition. The two letters were publicly released by NOAA on the federal portal (www.regulations.gov) when the federal agency sought comments on the petition.

On Monday this week, Aug. 10, Hines wrote to the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) "to voice our concern" over the petition. "Although we are updating our original ‘objection’ to the Petition we do have material concerns as to the effectiveness and intent of the petition," he said.

According to Hines, the petition may violate the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC) conservation and management measure limits on purse seine fishing agreed to by the U.S. "Such an action would make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to advocate strong conservation measures within the WCPFC and could invite retaliation by other Commission members," he said.

"It would also call into question the resolve of the US to implement real conservation measures," he said. "Again, our concern would be how to address these issues in light of commitments already made by the U.S. government."

Hines pointed out that the (Tri Marine) petition — as presented — could be interpreted as providing a single company an integrated commercial advantage over competitors, which would be considered a "commercial subsidy".

The petition requests exemption for "U.S. flag purse seine vessel which, pursuant to a contract or declaration of intent, delivers or will deliver at least 50 percent of its catch to tuna processing facilities based in American Samoa".

Hines questioned, among other things, how 50% is determined, on a trip by trip basis; who enforces this standard; and what happens if a vessel doesn’t in fact deliver 50%.

He pointed out that the two canneries both have their own fleets which are designed to provide the canneries most of the raw material requirements. Further, there is a limited market in American Samoa so even if vessels in the U.S. fleet made a declaration of intent to deliver 50% to the Pago Pago canneries, they would not be able to do so because of the lack of market.

"There is also doubt that the [tuna] processors would, in fact, contract with our vessels to deliver to American Samoa since they have their own fleet," he said. "By design the petition seems to benefit a limited number of dedicated vessels and the associated processors. Rather, the intent should be to support any U.S. vessel that wishes to choose American Samoa as their home port."

He also says that if there was a market in American Samoa, a number of U.S. vessels that cannot currently supply the island would indeed provide raw material as has been committed to in the past and present.

"In our assessment, the petition is designed to provide economic relief to the petitioner through a form of operational subsidy," he claimed.

Instead, he said, Tri Marine should request government assistance for fair wages for fish cleaners, taxes, and seek additional local incentives that will not disadvantage other U.S. vessels.

These efforts should be directed to Department of the Interior which should consider support for businesses in the territories, not limited solely to American Samoa, but possibly all the territories in the Pacific, he said.

"If we can address these concerns it may be helpful to understanding the underlying purpose in the petition by Tri-Marine," said Hines, who is also the executive director of the San Diego based South Pacific Tuna Corporation — whose members are a US purse seine fleet.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ROLE

Hines reminded NOAA that the underlying issue that created the specific need for the requested action is that the U.S. government did relinquish high seas access under the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission 2013 agreement for conservation for the 2014-2016 periods as well as attached limits to the access to vessels inside US EEZ waters in the Western and Central Pacific.

"This decision was made without industry or scientific support and has created serious economic hardship for the fleet," he said. "The decision also diminished the U.S. Government’s position to retain access under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which today we are paying for dearly in operating cost.

While the U.S. fleet does not have access to these areas, Hines pointed out that foreign flagged vessels continue to operate in the same areas without the FAD restrictions and other compliance measures adhered to by the U.S. fleet.

This is a major concern for all those involved in the U.S. tuna industry because of the damaging impact to the overall supply chain," he said.

He added, "We would strongly request that the U.S. Government place this issue in the forefront of their efforts to regain access to this important area for the US Fleet in order to support not only conservation, but also to return consistency to the tuna supply going to U.S. processors and consumers."

"We and other industry leaders would be happy to meet with NMFS to carve a new path towards conservation that would provide a solution that is fair, equitable and meets objectives and US Interests," he said.

See the Letter to the Editor in today’s edition for Hines open letter to American Samoa Fisheries Task Force chairman and the people of American Samoa.

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