Federal fishery managers to choose alternative for American Samoa Bottomfish Rebuilding plan
HONOLULU — The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet virtually on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, and take final action on the American Samoa Bottomfish Rebuilding plan. The agenda, background documents and instructions for connecting to the meeting and providing oral public comments are available at www.wpcouncil.org/event/188th-council-virtual-meeting.
In February 2020, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) informed the Council of a change in stock status for American Samoa bottomfish to overfished and experiencing overfishing based on an artifact of uncertainty in the survey data. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires the Council to develop a rebuilding plan within 15 months of notification and rebuild the overfished stock within 10 years. Alternatives include an annual catch limit (ACL) of 5,000 pounds that would rebuild the stock in 10 years with a 27% risk of overfishing, and closing federal waters.
The ACL for the bottomfish stock complex specified in 2017, prior to the 2019 assessment, was 106,000 pounds. Following the assessment, fishermen were allowed to catch an interim limit of 13,000 pounds to alleviate the impact on their communities, which expires Nov. 18, 2021. The American Samoa bottomfish fishery is small, with six fishers catching an estimated 8,040 pounds in 2020. Fishery landings have been declining since a high of 21,536 pounds in 2015. NMFS is not scheduled to complete a new stock assessment until 2023.
“According to the Pacific Community (SPC), 5,000 metric tons of bottomfish are harvested in neighboring Samoa, which is an incredible amount of fish,” said Archie Soliai, Council chair and director of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. “We obviously have a data problem, not a resource problem.”
At the 187th meeting in September 2021, the Council deferred taking final action on the rebuilding plan for the federally managed bottomfish complex in American Samoa to allow Soliai time to consult with Governor Lemanu Mauga on the coordinated management of the bottomfish fishery in territorial and federal waters. Several Council members expressed their dismay at the low catch limit alternatives and the potential fishery closure.
The Council has worked with NMFS and the territory of American Samoa for the past year to develop the first set of rebuilding plans for the region. Governor Mauga is scheduled to make opening remarks at the Council meeting.
The virtual meeting will have host sites at Tedi of Samoa Building, Suite 208B, Fagatogo Village, American Samoa; BRI Building, Suite 205, Kopa Di Oru St., Garapan, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); and Cliff Pointe, 304 W. O’Brien Dr., Hagatña, Guam. Host sites are subject to local and federal safety and health guidelines regarding COVID-19; check the Council website for updates.
The Council manages federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai‘i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Areas.