American Samoa Longline Group Says Members Were Approached To Support Protected Area Changes

Governor's Task Force sought support from Tautai to decrease LVPA; Government now challenging federal decision

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 12, 2017) – A locally based longline fishing group has claimed that chairman of the Governor’s Fishery Task Force has sought out its members to agree to an amendment to the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in waters of American Samoa.

The US National Marine Fisheries Service last year implemented a new rule, which reduces from 50 to 20 miles, the LVPA which has been reserved for the local alia fishing fleet since 2002. The 2016 LVPA Rule allows longline vessels of 50 feet or more to fish in the newly available fishing grounds.

However, the Territory of American Samoa, through the Governor’s Office and ASG, in March of last year sued NMFS as well as other federal entities over the reduction of the LVPA and the federal court agreed. On Wednesday, the federal defendants asked the court to reconsider its judgment or remand the issue back to NMFS for further review. 

Among the 99-pages of documents included in the federal defendant’s motion for reconsideration is a May 3, 2017 letter from Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association president Christinna Lutu-Sanchez and five other members of the association, to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga. 

The letter reconfirms the association’s position regarding its initial request about two years ago, made to the NMFS and the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, to amend the LVPA.

Since the March 2017 federal court decision on ASG’s lawsuit over the reduction of the LVPA rule, the letter claims that “members of our association have received inquiries” by Solip Hong, chairman of the Governor’s Task Force of Fisheries “to agree to a proposal to amend the LVPA to 25-miles from shore.”

“We write to state our position,” the letter states. “It is our position that we will await the decision made by NMFS and Council in response to our plea for help and to access these fishing grounds labeled LVPA.”

“We will not undermine the efforts of those that have responded to our desperate cries to keep this fishery alive and we will not ignore the fact that the same LVPA amendment in question was a result of our request... from US flagged longline vessels owned and operated by American Samoans with American Samoa longline limited entry permit,” the letter states.

“We believe that one of the strongest points made in our request is that we are not only US citizens, but we are also indigenous to these lands with equal rights as all other American Samoans to access the ocean and its resources around us,” it says.

Additionally, most of the vessels remaining in this US fishery are owned by Native American Samoans. Further, this is a federal fishery and “we are mandated to follow US laws and regulations governing fishing operations.”

“We recognize that the...Task Force does not have the power to negotiate the position of ASG,” according to the letter, which then claims that in the past, “task force representatives have misled us with information on ASG positions that have not been consistent with actual ASG positions transmitted by ASG leaders.”

Therefore, “We will not consider anymore information from anyone else regarding ASG’s position in this LVPA matter unless it comes directly from you, governor,” the letter emphasized.

In the meantime, Tautai says it continues to “make every effort to survive in this fishery because we live here, and this is our home despite claims by ASG lawyers stating that we are ‘foreign vessels’.”

Tautai also provided to the governor a copy of its Feb. 10, 2014 letter to the Council formally requesting access to the LVPA. And the governor was reminded that this request was made after several longline vessels stopped operating in the territory and several were also put up for sale.

“This request was delivered to your office, and we met with you and your staff twice regarding our desperate situation,” the group’s May 3rd letter informs the governor.

“Subsequent requests for meetings with you and your office have been denied but we are confident that you are kept informed by your staff on what is happening with our fleet of US longliners as we are the only US longline albacore fleet remaining and the sole source of US albacore to StarKist Samoa, the only cannery operating in American Samoa,” the letter concluded.

Copies of the letter were to have been sent to 10 individuals including Hong, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs and NMFS Pacific Island Regional Office.

The Samoa News
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