High seas fishing access by US fleet still disadvantaged
One positive aspect of the 13th Meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission in Nadi, Fiji last week was the US government’s plea to the regional fishery body to allow more access by the US fleet to fish on the high seas as well as the importance of the tuna industry to American Samoa’s economy.
This is according to American Tunaboat Association (ATA) Executive Director Brian Hallman and ASG Marine and Wildlife Resources Department Director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga — both attended the weeklong Fiji meeting where Matagi-Tofiga was head of the American Samoa delegation, which was part of the US delegation. It closed last Friday (Fiji time.)
Before he left for Fiji, Hallman told Samoa News that one of ATA’s main approaches at the WCPFC meeting will be to ensure that all management proposals are science based. He said that in the past, that has not always been the case; and rules should be applied equally and enforced equally for all fishing fleets, so that there is a level playing field for US vessels.
Asked if he was able to achieve ATA’s goal of ensuring that all management proposals are science based, Hallman responded yesterday, “No, because we are stuck for the year 2017 with a resolution established 3 years ago, and it was not changed. So we still have high seas measures for 2017 that are not science based.
Regarding the outcome of his efforts along with ATA’s to tackle the issue of fishing on the high seas in order to “protect US interests and rights on the high seas,” Hallman said, the “US fleet will still be disadvantaged regarding high seas fishing during 2017, because we have the limits established in 2013, and because that measure contains a loophole that will allow some fleets to make fish aggregating device (FAD) sets on the high seas during 2017, but not the US fleet.”
(According to wikipedia, FAD is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi. They usually consist of buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs.)
Asked for comment on any issues addressed at the meeting beneficial to the US fleet, Hallman, who has since returned to the US, said the “one positive thing that happened at the Nadi session was that the US government made a statement to the meeting expressing the importance of high seas fishing to the US fleet, and asked that the fleet be allowed more high seas fishing days, specifically back to the level before the 2013 WCPFC Resolution.”
“The statement mentioned the importance of high seas fishing and of a strong tuna industry to American Samoa,” he said via email.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Matagi-Tofiga says Russell Smith, the US head of delegation to the WCPFC “went to bat for American Samoa” regarding the “urgency to modify the current Tropical Tuna measure to reflect the challenges and needs of the American Samoa economy and its tuna fisheries — and this is a plea for access to the High Seas.”
She said the plea was officially acknowledged at the WCPFC in plenary session. She thanked Smith on behalf of the American Samoa delegation, and wished him good luck on future endeavors, because this was his last time as US Head of Delegation to the WCPFC.
As previously reported by Samoa News, the high seas fishing days for the US fleet are limited to 1,270, and 558 for the US EEZ for 2016. It was the same limits set by WCPFC for last year.
Since early last year, Tri Marine International, which has a US purse seiner fleet based in American Samoa as well as the locally based Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery has called for increasing high seas fishing days.
Congresswoman Aumua Amata joined them and wrote to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) seeking to increase fishing days.
Aumua noted that in 2014, the US agreed to reduce high seas fishing days from 2,030 to 1,270 and that she has been informed that this was done without any serious consultation with the US industry or American Samoa representatives.