U.S. Approves Longline Fishing In Am. Samoa Prohibited Area

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

Despite strong objections from territory, proposal for LVPA approved

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 29, 2016) – The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has approved a recommendation to allow large federally permitted U.S. longline vessels to fish in certain areas of the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in American Samoa waters.

The recommendation was made last year by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council and was strongly objected to by American Samoa leaders including Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga who argued — among other things — that the LVPA is preserved for locally owned alia, or small fishing boats.

In its decision released today, NMFS says approving this action is intended to improve the efficiency and economic viability of the American Samoa longline fleet, while ensuring that fishing by the longline and small vessel fleets remains sustainable on an ongoing basis.

NMFS and the Council will annually review the effects of this final rule on catch rates, small vessel participation, and sustainable fisheries development initiatives. Any future changes would be subject to additional environmental review and opportunity for public review and comment.

The federal decision reduces the LVPA from 50 miles to 12 miles in waters of the islands of American Samoa, giving large longliners — 50 feet or more — an additional 16,817 nautical miles of federal waters surrounding American Samoa in which to fish.

However, NMFS stressed that it will continue to prohibit fishing in the LVPA by large purse seine vessels. The fishing requirements for the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument also remain unchanged.

[PIR editor’s note: On Jan. 30, 2016 The Samoa News reported that ‘The US National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) contends that its decision to allow large US longliners, which contribute millions of dollars to the local economy, to fish in a portion of the Large Vessel Protected Areas in waters of American Samoa is consisted with federal law and regulations.’]

The 47-page decision also provides NMFS’ responses to commenters who responded to the proposed reduction of the LVPA. The comment period closed Sept. 24, 2015. NMFS received comments from over 270 individuals, commercial and recreational fishermen, businesses, territorial government offices — including the governor and Marine and Wildlife Resources Department — federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

Several commenters said that the large longline vessels are all vessels of the United States and should have the same right to fish in American Samoa waters as the small alia vessels. Additionally, the LVPA closure areas have been under-utilized by the alia longline fleet for more than 10 years.

In it’s response, NMFS agreed, saying that it believes that all fishing sectors should be treated equally, unless there is a legitimate conservation and management need to treat them differently. Here, NMFS is approving an action that exempts large longline vessels from an area that is currently restricted to them, but open to other fishing vessels, because the conditions that originally led to the restriction for the large longline vessels no longer exists.

NMFS explained that the LVPA was established in 2002 to separate small longline vessels from large longline and purse seine vessels, and reduce the potential for gear conflict and catch competition between small and large vessels. "At that time, the American Samoa longline fishery consisted of about 40 small alia - small fishing catamarans less than 50 ft long - and 25 large conventional mono-hull longline vessels.

However, since 2006, fewer than three alia have been operating on a regular basis; and of these, only one was active in 2013 and 2014, according to NMFS, adding that a federal Environmental Assessment report states that fewer than 50 other small commercial and recreational vessels fish for yellowfin and skipjack tunas and billfishes in nearshore waters and on offshore banks around American Samoa.

Therefore, even accounting for the potential for competition with pelagic troll and recreational vessels, the conditions that led to the establishment of the LVPA in 2002 no longer support the full extent (30-50 nm) of the original prohibited area for longlining, it says.

While the LVPA may benefit a few small alia vessels and these other fishing sectors, the LVPA may be further reducing the fishing efficiency of large longline vessels in combination with reduced catch per unit of effort (CPUE), lower sale price of fish, and increasing operational costs.

NMFS stressed that this decision, or exemption, applies only to large longline vessels of the United States that hold an American Samoa limited entry longline permit under provisions of federal law.

While Samoa News reported last year on many of those who commented to the proposed reduction of the LVPA, there were no reactions or comments from NMFS.

See tomorrow’s Samoa News online for more responses from NMFS to those who submitted comments or concerns. And in Monday’s edition reactions from the government and others about the NMFS decision.

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