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New fishing rule would contribute further to economic distress in Am Samoa, Tunaboat Assn. says

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Tunaboat Association (ATA) “strongly opposes” the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule that eliminates its use of a combined purse seine effort limit in the “Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine” (ELAPS), and creates two separate limits of 1,270 days for the high seas and 558 days that could only be fished within the U.S. EEZ.

U.S-based ATA “urges NMFS to retain its current and longstanding combined-limit approach,” wrote ATA executive director William Gibbons-Fly in his Oct. 03 letter to Sarah Malloy, the Acting Regional Administrator for the NMFS’ Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) in Honolulu.

Gibbons-Fly cited five reasons for its strong opposition, and provided full details of its arguments against the “proposed change to NMFS longstanding regulatory position on the ELAPS.”

Among the reasons for opposition, is that the proposed rule: “Will contribute further to the economic distress being suffered by American Samoa due to the continuing decline of the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet based there.”

“Although the dearth of discussion about this proposal’s impacts on American Samoa would suggest otherwise, in reality, the economy of American Samoa is overwhelmingly dependent on the uninterrupted operation of the U.S. fleet, and the fisheries sector more generally,” Gibbons-Fly argued in his letter.

He explained that the StarKist cannery plant in American Samoa, to which the U.S. purse seine fleet delivers fish, is the largest private sector employer in the territory, and the ancillary support and service enterprises for both the fleet and the plant, are a critical part of the local economy.

“The economy of American Samoa has suffered from both the recent reduction in the size of the U.S. fleet and the fact that the fleet must increasingly operate further from American Samoa in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, reducing further the amount of the fish delivered to the cannery,” he further explained. “This is not supposed to happen.”

Currently, NMFS’s regulations establish a combined limit on fishing effort by U.S. purse seine vessels in the ELAPS within the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Convention.

According to the ATA executive director, the Convention contains explicit provisions specifying the obligation of the WCPFC and its members to ensure that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Participating Territories, including American Samoa, do not suffer a “disproportionate burden” as a result of Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) adopted by the WCPFC.

Additionally, ATA notes that the harms to American Samoa would undermine U.S President Biden’s executive orders and policy priorities related to economic and environmental justice, ATA cited in a footnote provision of Biden’s order.

Accordingly, said ATA, the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) should have received additional information and analysis on this proposal and subjected it to increased scrutiny. “With this increased scrutiny, ATA believes that this proposal may not have been permitted to advance in the rulemaking process,” Gibbons-Fly said.

(Samoa News notes that OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the U.S President. OIRA is the federal government’s central authority for the review of Executive Branch regulations, approval of Government information collections, establishment of Government statistical practices, and coordination of federal privacy policy.)

Late last month, Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga submitted his concerns to NMFS, which the governor urged to use its “inherent discretion” to grant an exemption to high seas limits for purse seiner vessels based in American Samoa. He cited concerns over the impact the proposed rule would have on the tuna industry, fishing, and StarKist. (See Samoa News edition Sept. 28 for details of the governor’s letter.)

“We urge NMFS to give full consideration to the Governor’s views,” Gibbons-Fly wrote in his comment letter, which notes provision of a NMFS internal report from 2015: “.... estimated that the overall losses to the combined sectors of the vessels, canneries and vessel support companies from the 2015 ELAPS closure ranged from $11 million and $110 million depending on the counterfactual period considered.”

Gibbons-Fly said the study is now seven years old and there have been significant changes in the nature of the U.S. fleet. “Thus, it is impossible for NMFS to estimate today the potential impact on the American Samoa economy,” he said.

“For NMFS to consider such an action without a better understanding of the potential economic impacts on the highly tuna dependent economy of the territory is premature and irresponsible,” he argued.

As a result, and in further consultation with the authorities in American Samoa, Gibbons-Fly said that ATA and American Samoa request an extension of the comment period from Oct. 03 to November 1, 2022, in order to seek an updated assessment on the potential economic impact of the proposed action on the American Samoa economy.

“Any such assessment should look not only at the direct effects of a specific closure, but also at the indirect effects and longer-term implications and impacts of an action that would permanently constrain the ability of the American Samoa based fleet to rebound from its current historically low level,” Gibbons-Fly noted.

(Samoa News notes that public comments on the proposed rule were due by Oct. 03, but there has been no update as of 6p.m. on Oct. 04 as to whether the comment period will be extended.)

ATA also said that the proposed rule fails to adequately consider its impacts on American Samoa and the U.S purse seiner fleet’s long-term growth.

“ATA strongly urges NMFS not to move forward with this proposed action,” Gibbons-Fly said. “Implementation of this proposal would further damage and weaken the viability of the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet and the tuna- dependent economy of American Samoa while achieving no conservation or other relevant benefit or purpose whatsoever.”

“In fact, the continued decline of the U.S. fleet will further erode the influence of the United States in the WCPFC and weaken the ability of the United States to push for strong and transparent measures for the conservation and management of tuna on which the U.S. fleet has always been the leader,” he said.

The other four reasons, cited by ATA for opposing the proposed rule:

• Is unnecessary for compliance with the United States obligations under the WCPFC;

• Is not supported by any scientific or conservation purpose or rationale;

• Is highly prejudicial to the negotiating position of the U.S. industry in critical international access negotiations;

• Contravenes the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), specific provisions of U.S. law, in particular the WCPFC implementing legislation, and Executive Orders issued by President Biden.

ATA’s comment letter was publicly released late Tuesday by NMFS through federal portal ( — which also has details of the proposed rules and public comments, such as those from Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata as well as ASG’s Marine and Wildlife Resources director Taotasi Archie Soliai. (See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for story on Uifa’atali and Taotasi’s seperate comment letters.)