Many, including Gov support IATTC rules for fishing in Overlap Area
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has suggested to the feds that they apply the rules of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) on international fishing area in the Pacific Ocean called Overlap Area, arguing that it would be more beneficial to the territory’s economy than the current rules.
The governor’s suggestion to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the same as others — all of them based in the US — who noted the impact of high seas fishing restrictions on American Samoa’s economy and its cannery operation.
NMFS is seeking public comments on a possible change in the 2016 discretionary decision by the federal agency to apply, for three years, the tuna management measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to an area in the Pacific Ocean where the geographic jurisdiction of that international management body overlaps with its counterpart, the IATTC.
Lolo responded in a July 11 letter to Michael D. Tosatto, the regional administrator of NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Regional Office in Honolulu.
“It is the position of the American Samoa Government that applying rules” of IATTC rather then WCPFC in the Overlap Area “would be more beneficial to the economy of American Samoa,” the governor wrote.
He reminded Tosatto that “American Samoa’s main economic driver is the tuna industry and with numerous challenges that the industry faces, it is important to gain advantage where possible; this is one of those rare opportunities.”
According to the governor, managing the Overlap Area under IATTC rules would help US purse seiners, as there wouldn't be any WCPFC fishing aggravated devices (FAD) closures in the area and the Overlap Area would not be subject to the federal government’s Effort Limit Area for Purse Seiners (ELAPS) — under WCPFC rules which limits the number of fishing days for the U.S. tuna fleet in the U.S. EEZ and the high seas.
“This means that purse seiners will be able to catch more fish without paying absorbent fees,” the governor points out. “Fortunately, the Overlap Area is near American Samoa which means that there is a greater likelihood that this extra catch will be off loaded in our territory and in turn boost our economy. ”
Lolo noted that it’s clear from NMFS’ own study that closing the ELAPS has an adverse economic impact on American Samoa. (The governor is referring to an August 2016 study conducted by Valerie Chan and Dale Squires that evaluated the economic impacts of the 2015 ELAPS closure to purse seine vessels, canneries and vessel support facilities in American Samoa.)
“NMFS has failed to create a rule to address this fact. However, this is a chance to help all alleviate this negative impact,” said Lolo, who then recommended that NMFS draft a rule that would apply the IATTC measures in the Overlap Area.
Public comments already submitted are supportive of applying IATTC rules in the Overlap Area and a handful of them — including Tri Marine International (see Samoa News online July 11 for details) — has called NMFS attention to the challenges faced by American Samoa, with restrictions already imposed on fishing grounds under WCPFC rules.
For example, in a July 12th four-page letter, San Diego based tuna vessel manager and consultant, William M. Sardinha tells Tosatto that US tuna fishing is a marginal business at the current time and “in order for the US vessels to have a future they need to recapture their access of International Waters to make the US fleet and American Samoa economically competitive in the World Tuna industry.”
Additionally, the loss of the US flag vessels and the loss of the Tri Marine International cannery in American Samoa “substantiates this fact.”
Sardinha also said that there are no high seas fishing days limitation in the IATTC and other fleets like the Spanish that fish in both the WCPFC area and the IATTC area have no High Seas limitations in the Overlap Area as they chose to follow the lA TTC rules, as the US should be doing.
“US needs to recapture their ability to fish on the High Sea days and the cannery in American Samoa could use the help,” he said, adding that StarKist Samoa cannery in Pago Pago “keeps running out of fish” and Tri Marine cannery “had to cease operations.”
“The subject of High Sea Days [fishing] and the need for more fish supply in American Samoa is continually brought up by StarKist,” and American Samoa’s governor, “strongly believes the fish supply could help with the budget problems in American Samoa,” he informs NMFS.
In closing, Sardinha believes that moving the Overlap Area from the WCPFC back to the IA TTC, “would be a positive step forward and could only help the economics of the US vessels and that of American Samoa.”
There was also support of applying IATTC rules on the Overlap Area from San Diego-based, American Tunaboat Association (ATA), which represents large, U.S. flag purse seine vessels fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
ATA executive director Brian Hallman in his letter to Tosatto noted, among other things, that fishing by U.S. flag vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean has become more attractive to many vessels in recent years. And the main reason for this shift in interest to the east is that opportunities for U.S. flag vessels to fish in the west — Western Pacific Ocean — have been reduced.
Hallman explained that the key factor in this reduction of opportunities is that the allowable number of fishing days in the high seas has been reduced by the WCPFC. Another important element is that fishing in the waters of Pacific Island countries has become very expensive.
“For these reasons, fishing effort by U.S. flag vessels in the WCPFC area has been decreasing,” he said, noting that in addition to having an overall negative impact on the economics of the U.S. purse seine fleet, “this development has been harmful to American Samoa, where many U.S. vessels fishing in the western Pacific have landed their catches.”
“Tuna landings by U.S. vessels are central to the economy of American Samoa,” Hallman emphasized. “If IATTC rules instead of WCPFC rules were to apply in the overlap area, the economic hardship to the U.S. fleet and to American Samoa would be ameliorated.”