Gov. Lolo looks to AG for next step in longliner battle
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has directed Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale to look at the next step American Samoa can take on the issue of the Large Vessel Protected Area, which is reserved for local alia, but has been recommended to be amended to allow for fishing by the longliner fleet.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council earlier this month approved an LVPA amendment which would allow longliners to fish seaward of 12 nautical miles, with the provision that the measure be reviewed annually. The measure is subject to approval by the U.S.Commerce Secretary.
During the cabinet meeting last Thursday, the governor called the Council's vote to amend the LVPA “one of the most critical issues for the government” — adding that the Fono had approved the Senate concurrent resolution which stands together with the governor in opposing the amendment.
“It’s not that we don’t want longliners to fish in this zone, but it's a matter of preserving the 50 mile zone for our people,” Lolo told directors. “We are in the process of developing new fishing alias — super alias, so to speak. And we hope that we can retain the 50 mile zone so that our people can have access to the fishing grounds within the 50 miles.”
While the Council is against maintaining the 50 mile zone of the LVPA, the governor said, “we maintain our position... and I’ve asked the Attorney General to start looking into steps as to what to do next in order for us to maintain that position.”
Lolo went on to point out that the U.S. Interior Department, which has federal jurisdiction over American Samoa, should be the one to have a lot of say on this issue.
He says that for any federal agency to step in and impose rules and regulations “against our resources” they should go through DOI.
“We have a very fragile economic base and we’re hoping that by keeping this 50 mile zone, it will help our people have access to these fishing grounds,” he said. “We’re hoping that this issue of economic development using that zone will bring some new revenues into our government and that’s the whole thing we’re trying to do.”
According to the governor, the 50 mile zone “is an economic argument” for the people of American Samoa and nothing else.
In a vote of 12-2 in the House last Friday, the House approved the Senate Concurrent Resolution calling on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to maintain the current 50 miles of the LVPA.
Tautai-O-Samoa Longline & Fishing Association president Christinna Lutu-Sanchez expressed her ‘faafetai tele’ to the members of the Fono — both in the Senate and House — who “recognize the importance of the longline fleet to our economy and the participation of our local American Samoans in this industry.”
“While many others have stood by us and have made statements to support ALL American Samoans, U.S. citizens and American Samoan residents that are in the fishing industry, the two members who voted NO, in disagreement of the language of the resolution, were [House] Reps. Toeaina Autele and Atalina Asifoa,” she said.
“We sincerely appreciate their stance and the risk that they have taken to go against political pressures so that they stand for ALL fishermen, boat owners and the fishing industry in its entirety and not just a select few.”
Tautai Association represents close to 40 longliners — including U.S-flagged longliners and foreign vessels — and all operate out of American Samoa. The only difference is that the U.S-flagged fleet fish in the U.S/American Samoa EEZ and the others fish in other Pacific islands EEZs such as the Cook Islands, said Lutu-Sanchez.
“So we all operate out of here, we all fuel our boats here, buy bait locally, buy all supplies, food, lube oil, gear, and equipment here in American Samoa and do all repairs here in American Samoa,” she said at the time.