U.S. Fleet Reiterates Position About Closure Of American Samoa Fishing Grounds

Longline owner says only U.S. boats to be hurt; no impact on foreign fleet

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 27, 2017) – An owner and operator of US longline fleet, based in American Samoa, has reiterated to the federal government that closure or limitation of fishing ground access will only hurt US fishermen and fleet, with no impact on non-US fleet.

The reminder to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came from Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, who provided comments on a federal proposed Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to analyze the environmental impacts of the continued authorization and management of U.S. Pacific Island deep-set tuna long-line fisheries under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (FEP) and other applicable laws.

“Our U.S. laws and regulations are constantly being updated to take into consideration the needs of stakeholders and to ensure management of our ocean resources,” said Lutu-Sanchez in comments to NOAA.

She points out that there are numerous regulations to conserve and take extra precaution not to over fish or over expose any of the species. Additionally, tuna is a highly migratory species and the U.S. fisheries are global leaders in managing ocean resources wisely.

“Any closures or limitation of fishing ground access to U.S. fishing boats or U.S. fishermen will hurt only our U.S. small businesses but will not have any impact on the efforts of other fishing vessels/ companies that are not U.S,” she said.

She notes that wise management such as the existing U.S. structures like the regional management councils “where all stakeholders have input are a more effective way of caring for our communities, our environment and our ocean resources.”

The Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is one of the 8 regional councils.

Krista Corry, a native of American Samoa, as well as an owner and operator of local longline vessels also submitted comments, informing NOAA “fisheries in American Samoa is the largest industry.”

She explains that laws restricting or prohibiting fishing has a large impact on the economy and affects everyone in American Samoa. She stressed the need to not only "analyze the environmental impact of the continued authorization and management of U.S. Pacific Island deep-set tuna longline fisheries under … the applicable laws,” but to also consider the economic impact on the region.

“The probability for economic loss to the territories must be a considered factor in creating or managing applicable laws. I feel that economic viability needs to be considered in the PEIS in some way,” Corry points out.

She recalled the recent federal court ruling on the Large Vessel Protected Area in waters of American Samoa, which the federal court invalidated. Corry said the LVPA court ruling noted that “NOAA did not take into consideration the local rights, but I beg to differ.”

“NOAA saw the need of the local indigenous large longline vessel owners and acted with proper consideration to the management and scientific information available,” she said. “I would ask that the rights and needs of the people continue to be a large factor in the analyzing the environmental impacts in the PEIS.”

(The federal court pointed to the Deeds of Cession as the basis for its decision, noting that they were not used when considering indigenous rights vs. federal jurisdiction.)

As of Monday this week, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has not indicated in federal court records whether it will ask the court to reconsider its decision.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and local traditional leaders have praised the court’s ruling repeatedly as a win for the 1900 Deed of Cession (Tutuila and Aunu’u) and the 1904 Deed of Cession of Manu’a with the United States.

The Samoa News
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