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Local man says expansion is not the answer to protecting fish stocks

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa-based businessman, Nathan Ilaoa, owner of Flying Fox Gastropub, in his comment letter opposing the proposed designation of the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA) as a sanctuary, declared that: “Fishers are not opposed to protecting fish stocks if it is done in a way that is both necessary and practical.”

If the existing Marine National Monument is not sufficient, adding a second layer of managed area by another agency is not the way to address the problem, he argued.

“Instead, the Monument’s existing management plan should be adjusted as necessary,” he said and explained that the area from 50 to 200 nautical miles around Howland, Baker, Palmyra and Kingman islands in the PRIA are in deep waters “and the tuna targeted by our fishermen are highly migratory and are not found in the vulnerable habitats that the Sanctuary seems concerned about.”

“In fact,” he claimed that, “the proposed expansion doesn’t even consider studies done on areas around the PRIA” (Gilman et al, 2020 & Hampton et al, 2023).

Ilaoa said those studies show that similar closures have no conservation benefit to the tunas that are caught in the PRIA and delivered to American Samoa’s cannery.

In fact, he said, this proposed Sanctuary would only diminish the U.S presence in the area.

“The longline and purse seine fisheries that our cannery relies on has no interaction with reef or vulnerable habitats because of the existing closure from 0 to 50 nautical miles under the Marine National Monument,” he explained.

“Also, because the target species are highly migratory fish, they are then caught by foreign, subsidized fishers on the high seas who benefit from relaxed regulations and lower costs,” said Ilaoa who then claimed that “China is already benefiting from reopening of the Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA), which is adjacent to the PRIA, for their purse seine vessels.”

He points out that the study by Hampton et al (2023) found that the PIPA had no measurable conservation benefits for tropical tuna species. The PIPA, according to the study, actually displaced fishing effort.

“If there was any spillover, it would only be to China’s benefit as they fish the PRIA’s adjacent waters with little or no restriction,” said Ilaoa.

At the outset of his comment letter, Ilaoa said he is restaurant owner in American Samoa and the proposed PIRA designation “threatens the viability of our territory’s economy as it further handicaps American fishing boats that provide tuna to our local cannery” which is the “backbone of our local economy and its collapse would have catastrophic consequences for American Samoa.”

He recalled that the ASG Commerce Department stated recently, the cannery in essence subsidizes roughly 40% of both our fuel and shipping costs.

“Without the cannery, most if not all of our local businesses would have to shut down. Removing fishing grounds from the US boats that so desperately need them would result in the demise of life in American Samoa as we know it,” he said.

Without the PRIA fishing grounds, Ilaoa argued that the US flag vessels would likely discontinue delivering fish to the local cannery, threatening some nearly 6,000 jobs in the territory as US fishermen would be forced to pay foreign countries for access to their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) or fish the high seas.

“This fishery is very well-regulated and to continue to pile on unnecessary restrictions on the fishermen puts many jobs at risk,” he said and suggested that the U.S. should seek to address those countries that continue to engage in and support IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing in the region, not let the fishing industry and the places like American Samoa that depend on it have a growing disproportionate burden.

“I hope that the federal government considers small businesses like my own here in American Samoa and does not expand the National Marine Sanctuary to the Pacific Remote Island Area,” he said. “The threat to the US flagged vessels that provide fish to our local cannery is too much to ignore.”

Ilaoa’s comment letter is one of the 93 comments posted and released on federal portal ( as of yesterday morning on this issue. Many of the commenters — residing off-island as well as off-island groups and organizations — are in support of the proposal, which is seeking public comments by June 02.

Meanwhile NOAA is adding two more virtual meetings as it seeks input on the proposed designation of the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA) as a sanctuary.  More information as it becomes available.

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