American Samoa Congresswomen Asks President Trump To Remove Fishing Prohibitions

Amata's letter notes impacts on territory's canneries of marine monument

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 8, 2017) – U.S President Donald Trump has been asked to remove all marine monument fishing prohibitions and reinstate fisheries management in accordance with federal law.

The request, made yesterday in a two-page letter by US Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and American Samoa’s Congresswoman Aumua Amata, says prohibitions on commercial fishing in waters around marine monuments have impacted US fishing fleet as well as one cannery operation in Pago Pago.

“Using the Antiquities Act to close U.S waters to domestic fisheries is a clear example of federal overreach and regulatory duplication and obstructs well managed, sustainable U.S. fishing industries in favor of their foreign counterparts,” the letter from the Republican lawmakers point out.

“You alone can act quickly to reverse this travesty, improve our national security, and support the U.S fishing industry that contributes to the U.S economy while providing healthy, well-managed fish for America’s tables,” the letter tells Trump.

At the outset, the letter explained that access to several of the nation’s key fisheries is in jeopardy through the establishment and expansion of the Marine National Monuments, which have been created by Presidential Proclamations under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

For example, in the U.S Pacific islands region, over half of the U.S waters have been closed to commercial fishing by a stroke of the pen and without specific evidence, socioeconomic analysis, or a deliberative and public process as mandated under the amended federal Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management (MSA) Act.

“The loss of U.S fishing grounds makes our consumers more dependent on foreign seafood sources, as only 10% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is domestically produced,” the letter.

Bishop and Amata explain that Marine National Monuments created in the U.S. Pacific Islands resulted in the U.S tuna purse seine fleet losing access to historical fishing areas, including all U.S waters (0-200 miles) surrounding Jarvis Island, Wake Island, and Johnston atoll - which are remote and uninhabited possession of the U.S totaling 1.1 million square miles.

In Hawai’i, the state’s longline fleet also lost access to these areas as well as two-thirds of the U.S exclusive economic zone around the Hawai’i archipelago.

At the same time, the letter says, federal government negotiators agreed to reduce significant access of the U.S. purse seine fleet to the high seas within the Western and Central Pacific Ocean as well as reduce catch limits for U.S longline vessels.

“Such actions exemplify how a President and government bureaucracies can dispassionately decimate U.S. fishing industries,” according to the letter, which also states that commercial fishing prohibitions in the Marine National Monuments impacted shore-side businesses and local economies of the U.S.

For example, last December, one of the two canneries in American Samoa, which represents over half of the local private sector workforce and over half of American Samoa’s Gross Domestic Product, ceased operations due to the lack of U.S. tuna supply. The letter was referring to Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., which was not identified by name.

“The remaining cannery has stated that it may close if the regulatory conditions do not change,” the letter said, referring to StarKist Samoa. “Likewise, the loss of access to highly productive fishing grounds in the northeast has exacerbated the decline of many fishing ports in the region.”

To remedy the impacts faced by the U.S fishing industry, the letters says Trump “can act swiftly and effectively to remove all marine monument fishing prohibitions.” In return, fisheries would continue to be managed under federal law, through the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils and the U.S Commerce Department.

The letter points out that the U.S. fisheries support hundreds of thousands of direct jobs, millions of indirect jobs, and billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Bishop and Amata believe that removal of fishing prohibitions stipulated in monument proclamations and return the U.S fisheries management to the regional management councils “would continue to prevent overfishing and protect the marine environment” as required by the MSA and other applicable laws, “while allowing our fishing fleet to compete with their foreign competitors.”

BACKGROUND

Restriction on the U.S. purse seiner fleet to fish on the high seas in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, has received a lot of objections from the U.S fleet and American Samoa because it limits fishing grounds for the US fleet, which supplies fish for the local canneries.

In a letter last December, the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (one of the eight fishery councils) informed then U.S President Barack Obama that the Pacific Remote islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) expansion displaced sustainably managed US fishing vessels from US waters.

For the US purse seine fleet, for example, this resulted in increased reliance on fishing in waters of Pacific Island countries. Furthermore access to fish in waters of these island countries “comes at exorbitant cost — approximately $12,000 per fishing day.”

Tri Marine International, which has a US purse seine fleet based in Pago Pago, and the San Diego based American Tunaboat Association, have voiced similar concerns over the past three years, pertaining to expanding boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands MNM, forcing the US fleet to fish in waters of Pacific island countries.

The Council also says that although touted by marine monument advocates as a fishery management tool, “in reality monuments have little to no conservation benefits” for highly migratory fish stocks — e.g. tuna and billfish — and as such, cannot be included in any stock assessment evaluating the condition of these stocks in the Western Pacific region.

The Samoa News
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