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Local alia association submits affidavit against LVPA case

President of the local Alia Fisherman Association, Taloloa Howard Dunham voiced his concerns with a federal judge over the US government’s decision early last year, which reduced the Large Vessel Protected Area (LVPA) in waters of American Samoa from 50 to 12 miles from shoreline.

Dunham’s concerns were outlined in his affidavit, included in recent filings by the Territory of American Samoa in its lawsuit against several US government defendants, over changes made to the LVPA, which were put in place in 2002 and reserved for the local alia fleet.

The plaintiff, through the American Samoa Government, is seeking to overturn the Feb. 3, 2016 decision by the US National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Based on the NMFS decision, longline vessels can now fish within the miles that were previously part of the LVPA.

In his affidavit, Dunham explained that when the 50 mile LVPA boundary was in place “we rarely saw big longliners where we fish,” but now he has received reports from association members that they have spotted them much closer than they have been for a long time.

Longliners fishing within the 50 miles boundary “creates more competition for our alia fleet,” he said, adding that “we must compete for space to fish.”

Additionally, longliners have bigger and faster boats, which means they get to fishing grounds faster and if they are fishing in that area, because their lines are so long, “we must find other places to fish.”

Dunham, who has been an alia fisherman for 20 years, said the 50 miles LVPA created a buffer that the bigger boats could not cross. Now with the LVPA reduced to 12 miles, there is a much smaller buffer between the small and big boats, he said, adding that fish that once escaped at the 50 miles boundary are now being caught by the bigger boats at the new 12-mile boundary.

“One area of extreme concern is fishing at the banks inside the 50-mile boundary,” Dunham wrote and claims that there is a “fear” that the longliners “will lay their hooks close to the banks depleting fish supply and ruining the reef.”

He also says that the alia fleet “must compete at the market with the longliners” and points out that when longliners bring in their catch, all of their “by-catch” floods the market. For example, local restaurants and stores will buy their catch because it costs less.

“Longliners are able to charge less because they catch much more,” he claims. “This competition discourages fisherman by making conditions more difficult and expensive.”

“It is difficult enough without the longliners close to the island. Bringing them closer [to shoreline] will make it worse,” he argued.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in its latest filings last month reiterated that among the customs protected under the 1900 Tutuila and Aunu’u Deed of Cession and the 1904 Manu’a islands Deed of Cession “are the fishing practices of American Samoans”, who have historically fished the Pacific Ocean using alia and canoes, ranging as far as 30 nautical miles to track schools of tuna.

Furthermore, American Samoans operate a complex cultural system to distribute fish throughout their villages in accordance with Samoa cultural practices. And “significance of fishing rights as cultural practices has been recognized” by NMFS in the past.