Mixed Reaction In Am. Samoa Over Fisheries Decision

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Tunaboat Assoc very disappointed, purse seiner has measured response

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 22, 2015) – San Diego based American Tunaboat Association has described the decision by the US National Marine Fishery Service not to undertake an emergency rule making on Tri Marine International’s petition "very disappointing," saying that US government restriction on fishing in the high seas is harmful to the US fleet.

On the other hand, J. Douglas Hines, owner of two US companies, which own and manage 14 US purse seiners says the US government is exploring ways to assist the US fleet operating in and out of American Samoa, as well as others who are concerned over the "dis-portion burden" over other fleets operating in the region. (Samoa News understands that the fleets referred to by Hines are foreign vessels.)

Tri Marine had petitioned NMFS for an emergency ruling to exempt U.S. purse seine vessels that deliver at least half of their catch to tuna processing facilities in American Samoa from the closure of the area known as the Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS) — which is fishing on the high seas and US EEZ.

However, Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator of the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office, told the Fishing Industry Advisory Committee (FIAC) meeting held in the territory Monday night that NMFS found it is not appropriate to grant the petition as it was requested, right now, according to a news release Tuesday from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

ATA RESPONSE

Responding to Samoa News request for comments on the NMFS decision, ATA executive director Brian Hallman said, "Let me say clearly that this decision is very disappointing for the boats operating out of American Samoa."

He said the "restrictions on the high seas imposed by the US government are very harmful to all vessels in the US fleet" for several reasons, including the loss of access to traditional fishing grounds, such as Kiribati (which this year provided US vessels with only 300 fishing days for the entire U.S. purse seine fleet, compared to 4,313 fishing days in 2014.)

Additionally, the loss of access to the waters of uninhabited US Pacific islands, such as Jarvis Island and Johnston Atoll; and the uncertain future of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which provides access to the waters of other Pacific Island countries.

"Two points particularly relevant to the high seas restrictions are that they are not grounded in science, and they create a playing field that is not level for US fishermen," Hallman said, adding that the high seas restrictions come from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and not from Commission’s scientific recommendations.

"Rather, they are political and economic allocations asked for by Pacific Island countries to force fishing in their waters with high license fees," he said.

"Secondly, what has occurred along with the reduction in high seas fishing by US vessels is an increase in high seas fishing by the flagged vessels of Pacific Island countries — many of which are owned and managed by non-Pacific island countries such as China, Japan, Korea, or the Philippines," he said. "So, evidently, this creates an uneven playing field for US vessels, which is unfair and unacceptable."

HINES’ REACTION

When asked for comments to the NMFS decision, Hines said, "We do understand the US government is exploring ways to assist the US fleet in and out of American Samoa as well as others as there is concern over the dis-portion burden over other fleets operating in the Pacific."

"It is important that we continue to work with the US government within the principals that are part of US regulatory statutes to develop options that will offer this benefit," he said, adding that he attended Council meetings in Honolulu and feel that their recommendations presented by the advisory committee "will start a genuine process to bring opportunities [and] this needed support as well as required visibility and compliance by all Nations."

Additionally, "we, along with all US operators in the Pacific Islands, need to demand a level playing field that benefits all those who are truly participants in the Fisheries. The US is a true coastal state, equal to the Pacific Island Parties."

"As a coastal state with territory exceeding others in the Pacific we have equal claim to sustainability of the resource and protection and expansion of its stakeholders… including [American] Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii and all that fly the US Flag operating in the region," he added.

Hines had raised concerns with NMFS over Tri Marine’s petition saying that the request is a form of "commercial subsidy". (See latest Samoa News edition on Aug. 13 and 18 for details.)

CANNERIES RESPONSE

The corporate office for StarKist Co. didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News’ request for comments on the NMFS decision as well as questions on the impact this will have on StarKist Samoa’s fish supply for the rest of 2015.

Joe Hamby, Tri Marine Group's chief operating officer, expressed disappointment on the decision "considering the dire straits the vessels are going through," according to the Council news release (See yesterday’s edition).

Tri Marine spokesperson Heidi Happonen says the company has nothing further to add at this time beyond the statements made by Hamby in the news release.

BACKGROUND

Tosatto, in yesterday’s NMFS press release, said its main reason for not granting the petition was that they needed more info on the economic impact of the ELAPs closure, and if it warranted such action.

Hamby asked Tosatto, when this would happen, noting that the original petition was made six months ago. Tosatto responded that it was hard to put a timeline on what it would take. "WCPFC has a lot of clauses and we are exploring those ... It will be several months," he said.

In their response, the governor’s office said they "assumed these analysis should have been conducted first before policies are issued. The question that comes to mind is what economic and scientific information is used to fashion these federal policies."

The governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira noted it would take another six months before a final decision is rendered on the Tri Marine proposal, yet the federal government has just raised the minimum wage by 40-cents "adding yet another blow to the canneries competitive advantage which further exacerbates economic uncertainty for American Samoa."

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