WestPac Fisheries Council Director Supports Cannery Exemption

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Am. Samoa purse seiners should be allowed to fish US EEZ: Simonds

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Aug. 19, 2015) – Past decisions by the federal government have led to the current situation faced by American Samoa with the loss of fishing grounds, says Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council executive director Kitty M. Simonds, who recommends developing regulations to support Tri Marine International’s petition.

Tri Marine has requested that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration make an emergency exemption which would allow the US purse seine fleet who offload 50% of their catch at the local canneries to fish in the US EEZ and on the high seas.

SIMONDS LETTER

While supportive of the petition, she said "the Council is not averse to some level of appropriate purse seine catch or efforts limits that could be assigned to American Samoa that are consistent with what may be established for other Small Island Developing States and Territories."

Additionally, the Council’s responsibility to manage fisheries in the US EEZ around American Samoa, established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Management Acts "recognizes" that American Samoa contains "unique historical, culture, legal, political and geographical circumstances which make fisheries resources important in sustaining its economic growth."

Simonds says the Council supports the petition in order to preserve the long-term continuity of the Pago Pago canneries which are "now threatened by reduced tuna deliveries and supply". She pointed out that the reduction will negatively affect cannery product, impact cannery employment and support services and harm the economy of the territory.

"Past decisions by the US government have lead to the current situation," she declared. She explained that in 2005 US government representatives to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to reduce opportunities for fish by US purse seiners on the high seas and within the US EEZ.

"This decision was not based on tuna conservation, but on the economic allocation of fishing rights within the WCPFC," she explained and noted that at the time, reduced access to these two fishing grounds may not have been a major concern for the US government.

This lack of concern, she said, was due to the terms of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty (SPTT) which in return for annual contribution of $18 million by the US government and $3 million by the US purse seine fleet, gave the US purse seine fleet access to fishing grounds within the EEZ-waters of 16 Pacific Island countries.

It was also during this time that the US purse seine fleet "contracted from 49 vessels in 1994 to 11 vessels in 2007," she said.

"However, a major shift in the management of the WCPO (Western and Central Pacific Ocean) purse seine fishery was underway, which the US government should have recognized as significant in terms of fleet operations and impacts to American Samoa," she said.

She said that in 2007, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) introduced the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) which aims to maximize economic returns to the Pacific Island countries by allocating transferable vessel days to PNA members.

In that same year, she said, the situation "changed rapidly" when the US allowed Taiwanese-built vessels to become US flagged, thereby receiving the benefits afforded under the SPTT — and the VDS was not part of the SPTT at the time.

According to Simonds, these new US flagged vessels fish farther away from American Samoa and predominately transship their catch to Thailand cannery processors. "These additional vessels have exacerbated the excess purse seine vessel capacity in the region and played into the PNA strategy," she said and noted that more vessels operating increases competition for a limited amount of vessel days, resulting in higher prices paid under the VDS.

She went on to explain that in 2013, the US accepted the VDS under the SPTT and agreed to pay a combined government and industry amount of about $90 million. In the same year, the US agreed to further reduce fishing efforts on the high seas.

"In term of tuna conservation, the rationale to accept further high seas reductions was unclear at the time and remains so today," she said. For example, regional efforts to address the impact of purse seine fishing on bigeye tuna have focused on "fish aggregating device (FAD) based measures and not on high sea efforts."

Then last year, the US "agreed to an inexcusable deal to the detriment of American Samoa" allowing Kiribati — which is typically the most productive purse seine fishing group because it’s closer to American Samoa — to reduce fishing days available to the US fleet from 4,313 to 300 days.

American Samoa-based purse seine vessels are now forced to travel great distances to fish, reducing deliveries to the Pago Pago canneries and increasing transshipping in foreign ports, she pointed out.

"The dependency of the tuna industry is unquestionable and like other Small Developing States and Territories in the Pacific, American Samoa and the fishing industry that it supports should be afforded special recognition," she said.

Simonds declared that the "tuna fisheries of the United States in the Pacific are under siege". For example, she said foreign imports are overtaking American fisheries production, seafood markets and jobs.

"Until the United States begins to safeguard its fishery interests in the region, American tuna fisheries will wither, creating economic ruin in American Samoa and Hawai’i, and leaving the United States as a passive observer within the world’s largest tuna fishery," she said.

She suggests that NOAA establish rules that support the intent of Tri Marine’s petition and by doing so, the United States "can help reverse some of the missteps it has taken over the years that have left American Samoa’s economy in this highly vulnerable position."

In developing regulations that support the intent of the petition, she said the Council "strongly recommends" that affected US vessels not be allowed to increase bigeye catches and that the National Marine Fishery Service work with the fleet to reduce bigeye catches from existing levels.

"The United States should take on a stronger leadership role in solving the purse seine bigeye catch problem," she concluded.

Aug. 17 was the final date for NOAA to accept comments on Tri Marine’s petition and it’s unclear as to when the federal agency will make a decision on the request for the emergency rule. All comments are posted on the federal portal www.regulations.gov

[PIR editor’s note: The Samoa News reported that ‘The partner and owner of two companies which own and manage US purse seine fleets has withdrawn his objection to Tri Marine International’s petition, but has requested the National Oceania and Atmospheric Administration to clarify "two critical areas of concern". … One of them, which was cited in his previous comment letter, is that the petition relies on the assumption that American Samoa has the same legal rights as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) under the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (the Convention). ... On the second critical issue, Hines said, "we feel the petition as presented would provide a commercial advantage to one sector of the industry, which would be a clear violation" under provisions of the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA)which states: "Conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different States."’]

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