Am. Samoa Governor Reiterates Support For Tuna Canneries

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

Lolo’s opposition to fishing in protected area remains unchanged

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Feb. 1, 2016) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has made clear that his opposition to allowing large US longliner vessels to fish in the Large Vessel Protected Area (LVPA) in waters of American Samoa does not mean he is not supportive of the local canneries, which gets a lot of its fish supply from the locally based longliner fleet.

The governor’s comments, responding to Samoa News inquiries, followed last Friday’s decision by the US National Marine Fishery Service approving last year’s recommendation by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council to allow large federally permitted U.S. longline vessels to fish in certain areas of the LVPA, which has been reserved since 2002 for the locally alia fleet.

In its 47-page decision, 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 remain sustainable on an ongoing basis.

The decision was publicly released just before 8a.m. local time Friday and Samoa News sought reaction from Lolo through his executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira.

In response, the governor said, in a media statement, that it’s "important to clear the air with regard to the perception that my opposition" to the Council’s recommendation "reflects my lack of support for the sustainability of our canneries."

According to the governor, the fundamental issue prompting opposition from local leaders "is one of sovereignty over our native assets — lands and oceans. We ceded our lands so the United States Government could establish a political and economic presence in the Pacific.

"In return, the United States Government was to assume the full responsibility of promoting the ‘peace and welfare of our people’, establishing a ‘good and sound government’ and preserving the ‘rights and property’ of our people as articulated in our Deed of Cession," he said.

But in spite of "vehement opposition" from territorial government leaders, Lolo claimed that NMFS "expressed no sensitivity towards our sovereignty over our native assets."

He asked, "Can NMFS and the Council guarantee that the fish caught within the LVPA of American Samoa will go to our local canneries?" He added, "Benefits derived from our native assets should accrue exclusively to the people of American Samoa. Ensuring that the canneries exclusively receive these resources is aligned with our expectations and our desires."

In its decision, NMFS responded to comments submitted during the public comment period which closed Sept.; 30. 2015. NMFS said several commenters noted that the Deed of Cession. NMFS said its decision to approve the Council’s recommendation is consistent with its authority under the Magnuson-Steven Act to manage fishery resources in the U.S. EEZ.

Further, this action does not alter the authority of American Samoa to manage its coastal fisheries to the extent authorized under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NMFS noted that it took particular care to ensure that the views of the territory’s stakeholders, including fishermen, fishing communities, and ASG, were solicited and taken into account throughout the development of this action. (See Samoa News online edition Jan. 30 for details.)

Citing the federal Environmental Assessment report, NMFS said the longline fishery contributed between $7.2 million and $13.7 million to the American Samoa economy between 2003 and 2013. The primary source of the fishery’s economic contributions was from sales of fish to the two local canneries.

In a news release over the weekend, Council chairman Edwin Ebisui Jr. noted that the measure is important to maintain the supply of US caught albacore from the local longline fleet to the Pago Pago-based canneries. "The exemption will improve the viability of the American Samoa longline fishery and achieve optimum yield from the fishery while preventing overfishing," he said.

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