Fisheries Service finalizes entry rules for American Samoa’s longliners
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — U.S Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has issued a final rule — effective Nov. 8th — that implements Amendment 9 to the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (FEP) pertaining to American Samoa.
The final rule modifies the American Samoa longline fishery limited entry program to consolidate vessel class sizes, modify permit eligibility requirements, and reduce the minimum harvest requirements for small vessels. This final rule also makes several housekeeping changes to the program’s regulations.
“The intent of this rule is to reduce regulatory barriers that may be limiting small vessel participation in the fishery, and provide for sustained community and American Samoan participation in the fishery,” said NMFS in a notice issued yesterday announcing the final rule.
Through a notice on June 29th, NMFS announced that the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council proposed amendment 9, which if approved, would reduce regulatory barriers that may be limiting small vessel participation in the American Samoa longline fishery.
“Specifically, Amendment 9 would consolidate vessel class sizes, modify permit eligibility requirements, and reduce the minimum harvest requirements for small vessels,” said NMFS, noting that the Council recommended Amendment 9 “to provide for sustained community and indigenous American Samoan participation in the small vessel longline fishery.”
NMFS sought public comments — that were received up until Aug. 30th — that address the impact of this proposed action on “cultural fishing in American Samoa.”
Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) director Taotasi Archie Soliai - in his comment letter, commended NMFS for “supporting our pelagic fisheries” through Amendment 9 and he also offered the American Samoa Government recommendations in an effort to continue to work with NMFS on the permitting and reporting of this fishery for the territory going forward. (See Samoa News edition Sept. 1st for details).
In the notice this past Thursday announcing the final rule, NMFS noted DMWR’s provided comments on Amendment 9 that generally supported the changes established by the Council, and offered to work with NMFS on future reporting and permitting issues in this and other fisheries.
NMFS on July 19th published a proposed rule and request for public comments in which the Hawaii Longline Association (HLA) responded, saying that two dozen Hawaii vessels also hold American Samoa longline permits.
Although the fishery is operating safely during the COVID–19 pandemic, HLA is concerned that a minimum landing requirement would force these dual- permitted vessels to land in American Samoa, possibly spreading the virus to an area that has been largely virus-free. HLA requested that NMFS delay the effectiveness of the landing requirement and associated 3-year period for large vessels until the threat caused by the pandemic has eased.
NMFS responded that the American Samoa Department of Health has health and safety protocols in place that are applicable to fishing vessels landing in the territory. During the pandemic, U.S. fishing vessels have continued to land in American Samoa under these requirements, which include proof of a negative COVID–19 test, evidence of having recovered from COVID–19 in the past six months, or proof of complete vaccination at least 14 days prior to the arrival. Anyone arriving in port must provide the documentation at least 72 hours prior to arrival. Prior approval is required for crew to disembark.
“Quarantine measures are also in place, as needed, for vessels entering the port. These protocols have been effective,” said NMFS. “Based on the effective health and safety protocols in place there, NMFS does not agree that a delay in effectiveness for the minimum harvest landing requirements for large vessels is warranted.