Am. Samoa Longline Fleet Suffering From High Seas Closure

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Marine and Wildlife Resources director takes case to WCPFC

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 10, 2015) – Taking her concerns to an international audience, Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga describes how the closure of fishing on the high seas is affecting the locally based US purse seine fleet as well as the struggles faced by the locally based US longline fleet over the last 10 years — which has gone "from feast to famine."

Matagi-Tofiga, who is also Head of Fishery (HOF) for American Samoa led a territorial delegation to the 12th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Bali, Indonesia. The 5-day meeting ended Monday, local time.

PURSE SEINE

Addressing the WCPFC, Matagi-Tofiga pointed out that American Samoa has "articulated on several occasions" that the territory’s economy is highly dependent on the tuna fishery, which "includes two high volume canneries" that employ over half of the local private sector work force.

In addition, American Samoa have 20 locally based large-scale purse seiners, about 20 local longliners, and a great number of support businesses including the shipyard, net yards, fuel suppliers, maintenance and repair service providers and stevedoring companies.

As a US Territory, she says American Samoa has the benefit of the U.S. regulatory and enforcement resources to make sure that the local tuna fishery is fully compliant with WCPFC decisions and national laws, according to a copy of her address.

For American Samoa-based US purse seine vessels, "the high seas areas close to Pago Pago represent our historical fishing grounds, but when they were closed in June of this year we saw an immediate negative impact on our economy," she argued.

"There was a 45% reduction in purse seine port calls compared to the previous year. For these reasons, there have been likely severe negative impacts to American Samoa from the implementation of the US high seas purse seine limits," she said.

According to the director, American Samoa brings this issue to the attention of the WCPFC in recognition of Article 30 of the Special Requirement of Developing States and Territories. (SIDs)

"We humbly seek the understanding of our island neighbors, as well as non-SIDs, the importance of avoiding the adverse impacts of any high seas effort limits on our developing Territory," she added.

Local leaders, including Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga have argued that American Samoa is considered a SID under provisions of the Commission, but others have disagreed.

SOUTH PACIFIC ALBACORE

She also addressed the meeting on another issue, saying, "We are again frustrated at the lack of progress on strengthening the conservation and management of South Pacific albacore in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean."

She noted that American Samoa’s longline fishery is almost entirely dependent on the South Pacific albacore stock, and canned albacore is an extremely important product of the American Samoa tuna processing industry.

"Our domestic longline fishery has gone through great changes in the last ten years, basically from feast to famine," she said. "Ten years ago, the fishery was in good shape. More recently, the economics of the fishery became so poor that operators had to tie up."

"Over this same time period we have also lost our small scale albacore fishery," she explained. "We know that our South Pacific neighbors have also experienced similar downturns in their fisheries and we are supportive of Commission measures that improve economic and resource conditions for the South Pacific longline fleets."

"We also have significant concern on the potential impact of proposed Commission measures on the supply of albacore to our local canneries in American Samoa. Our tuna industry has preceded the Commission by many decades, and our economy is completely dependent on tuna processing," she said.

Therefore, "we are supportive of continued efforts to identify a Target Reference Point for South Pacific albacore through the harvest strategy process that leads to improved catch rates while minimizing impacts to the local processing facilities of Small Island Developing States and Participating Territories," she added.

DELEGATION

"We have echoed these concern in all fronts — to the US delegation, the Commission and CMMS — all in one voice," Matagi-Tofiga said in an email from Bali. The "one voice" includes herself, canneries representatives Joe Hamby of Tri Marine International and Gary Cann of StarKist Co.; American Samoa longline and fishing Association president Christina Lutu-Sanchez; Western Pacific Regional Fishery Council member, who is also a member of the local fishery task force Taulapapa Willie Sword and DMWR chief fishery biologist Dr Domingo Ochavillo.

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