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Proposed bottomfish catch for American Samoa drastically cut

Two men onboard a small fishing vessel with fish on the deck
Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Honolulu, HAWAII — Before its 3-day virtual meeting closed last week, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council agenda looked at a rebuilding plan for American Samoa bottomfish.

The most recent National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stock assessment for the fishery indicates that the fishery is overfished (too many fish have been removed) and subject to overfishing (too much fishing effort is occurring). Fishermen and the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) believe that the pessimistic assessment is due to poor and incomplete data.

Bottomfish habitat maps suggest that the majority of the bottomfish are caught in waters 0 to 3 miles from shore, which are under the Territory's jurisdiction.

The proposed interim measure would allow only 13,000 pounds of bottomfish to be caught annually from both federal and territorial waters, after which the bottomfish fishery in federal waters would be shut down. The average annual catch from 2013 to 2017 has been 21,139 pounds.

The Council will work with its Scientific and Statistical Committee and the American Samoa DMWR to explore other management options, such as area management and including cultural harvest at the offshore banks for deep-water snappers, to address the overfished status.

The Council also requested that the NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) prioritize the development of a fishery-independent survey in American Samoa to improve understanding of the stock.

To help improve the collection of data in the American Samoa bottomfish fishery, the Council directed its staff to work with its local fishermen advisors in the Territory to identify ways the members can assist with training fishermen on using a self-reporting data app.

The Council also requested that the American Samoa DMWR work with the Governor's Fisheries Task Force to address issues with data collection that have led to the current poor stock status and to coordinate with the Council and NMFS PIFSC to develop a strategy to address those issues.

The Council also directed its staff to explore the creation of sectors in the American Samoa bottomfish fishery that would separate the species complex between the nearshore bottomfish fishery and the offshore deep-water snapper fishery.