Am. Samoa Challenges Fisheries Service In Federal Court

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

Territory hopes to reverse decision to reduce Protected Area

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 9, 2016) – American Samoa has asked the federal court in Honolulu to overturn a ruling last month by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that reduces the Large Vessel Protected Area (LVPA) from 50 miles to 12 miles — this area had been reserved for more than a decade for the local alia fleet.

The plaintiff in the case is identified in court documents as the Territory of American Samoa while defendants are NMFS, U.S. Department of Commerce including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; Western Regional Pacific Fishery Management Council executive director Kitty Simonds; National Marine Fisheries Service assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck; and Michael Tosatto, regional administrator of the NOAA Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office.

Based on a recommendation last year by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council and after a comment period, which recorded several statements of opposition including that from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, NMFS issued a final ruling, which allows US registered large long liners of more than 50 feet to fish in nearly opened up areas of the LVPA.

In the 21-page complaint, filed last Friday at the federal court in Honolulu, American Samoa alleges that the NMFS — in promulgating the final LVPA rule on Feb. 3, 2016 — "acted arbitrarily by asserting a rationale to support the new rule that is contrary to the evidence in the record."

"NMFS also abused its discretion by failing to review, address, or consider the Deeds of Cession as required" under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) according to the complaint filed by a Honolulu based law firm representing American Samoa.

American Samoa is asking the court to vacate the NMFS rule and declare that:

The lawsuit comes more than a week after the federal Interagency Group on Insular Affairs meeting at the White House, where Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga voiced his disappointment over federal policies impacting American Samoa’s economic development — citing as an example that the US Commerce Department’s fisheries service pushed for and got the LVPA reduction, despite objections from local leaders and residents.

He argued that the 50-mile protective zone of the LVPA "is considered to be our traditional fishing grounds for our people. And we’d like to preserve that for our people... for their livelihood."

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