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Am Samoa identifies its priorities at Western Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The 20th Regular Session of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is meeting Dec. 4-8 in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Attending for Am Samoa is Director of the Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources (DMWR) Taotasi Archie Soliai.

Twenty-six member countries and participating territories of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have convened this session of the Commission.

An information paper submitted by the United States and American Samoa supporting implementation of a proposed footnote calls attention to the Fourth Tropical Tuna Measure Workshop, which met Sept. 29 & 30 in Pohnpei where American Samoa reiterated the economic hardships and disproportionate burden on the Territory resulting from the Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (CMM 2021-01) and prior iterations of this measure.

In particular, American Samoa identified its highest priorities as 1) gaining recognition of the disproportionate burden it has borne as a Participating Territory and 2) maintaining a reliable supply of tuna for processing in its last remaining cannery, StarKist Samoa.

To begin to address this, American Samoa and the United States have coordinated on a proposal to include a new footnote in the revised version of CMM 2021-01 under consideration this week. The proposed footnote is to exempt specific U.S.-flagged purse seine vessels from the U.S. purse seine high seas effort limit. The proposed footnote states that the exemption would apply to “U.S. flagged vessels notified as operating as an integral part of the American Samoa economy.”

If this proposal is accepted and approved, the US would be responsible for implementing the measure via a proposed rulemaking process.

Submitted by American Samoa on it’s own is an information paper looking at the Tropical Tuna Measure and support for American Samoa’s economic development.

It states in part, American Samoa’s economy is heavily dependent on the well-being of the tuna cannery and the American Samoa-based longline and purse seine fleets. American Samoa’s highest priority is to maintain and grow development opportunities for its local fisheries sector, which provides a significant contribution to the economy and livelihoods of American Samoa and its Pacific island neighbors.

American Samoa and the United States are proposing the footnote — “Except for U.S. flagged vessels notified as operating as an integral part of the American Samoa economy” — so that the tropical tuna measure supports the territory’s development aspirations via a reliable supply of tuna for processing in its one remaining cannery.

As a SIDS (Small Island Developing State) under the Convention and re-affirmed in paragraph 6 of CMM 2021-01, American Samoa relies on Article 30 of this Convention, which spells out the need to ensure that these measures “do not result in transferring, directly or indirectly, a disproportionate burden of conservation action onto developing States, Parties, and territories and possessions.” American Samoa views the proposed footnote as a first step to begin alleviating the disproportionate burden imposed on the territory as a result of the existing measure.

American Samoa notes that the Commission has adopted mitigation measures that served the needs of other SIDS and those measures have been successful as they have addressed the special requirements of certain SIDS, and as a result, the purse seine fisheries of American Samoa’s Pacific Island neighbors grow and flourish.

Unfortunately, American Samoa is moving in the opposite direction, as a number of former U.S. vessels have recently reflagged to avail themselves of the opportunities provided to other SIDS and territories. When these vessels reflag, the purse seine vessels fish farther from American Samoa, resulting in fewer port calls, and reduced cannery landings and associated local revenues. This, in effect, amplifies the disproportionate burden on American Samoa.

American Samoa is extremely happy for the success of our Pacific Island community and only seeks similar opportunities for its people. As American Samoa has highlighted in the past, avoiding a disproportionate burden on SIDS, including Territories, is a collective responsibility of the Commission. We appreciate the opportunity to work together to find solutions to alleviate these impacts.
Meanwhile The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is asking for more oversight on transshipment: that is when a ship offloads fish into another ship without coming into port. According to a news release at RNZ Pacific, this practice means there is less oversight and is thought to foster illegal fishing behavior.

FFA director-general Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen said electronic monitoring could be a solution if fishing vessels insist they cannot come into port.

"If it continues to be at sea we certainly need to have those cameras on vessels," Tupou-Roosn said.

All purse seine fishing boats — 100 percent — have observers on board, whose job it is to monitor fishing activity. However, longliners only have about five percent.

Pew Charitable Trust’s Geln Holmes said cameras on board could plug the gaps where there are no observers.

"[For] some of the longline vessels the conditions aren't great, [for] some of them the vessels just aren't big enough to accommodate another person on board, that is a logistical challenge and it's in that space particularly that electronic monitoring comes into it's own," Holmes said.

Meanwhile, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have put in a proposal to address the inbalance in the way fishery monitoring data is used to inform the Paciifc Tuna Commisions complience process.