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Tautai o Samoa says alia association made false statements in federal affidavit

[SN file photo]
Writes to Governor Lolo to “clarify and correct false statements”

Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association president Christinna S. Lutu-Sanchez has written to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to “clarify and correct false statements” made by local Alia Fisherman Association president Taloloa Howard Dunham in an affidavit filed last month at the federal court in Honolulu.

Dunham’s affidavit was included in filings by the Territory of America Samoa, through ASG, in its lawsuit against several US government defendants over the reduction of the Large Vessel Protected Area in waters of American Samoa from 50 to 12 miles.

The affidavit alleges, among other things, that longliner fishing within the 50 miles boundary “creates more competition for our alia fleet.” Dunham also claims “we must compete for space to fish.” (See Samoa News edition Jan. 5, 2017 for story).

Lutu-Sanchez also included in her four-page letter to the governor the affidavit, which she claims “makes false claims against us” and therefore it’s “necessary for us to point out the facts once again.”

Lutu-Sanchez, who is one of American Samoa’s three members on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, points out that 75% of the longline vessels currently operating, are owned by native American Samoans/ US citizens, while the rest of the vessels are owned by US citizens and residents of America Samoa.

She explained that the US longline fleet operating in the US/ American Samoa exclusive economic zone (EEZ) targets South Pacific albacore, which is a pelagic, highly migratory fish stock and is the sole source of longline-caught US albacore supply, which is required by federal contracts such as tuna for the US Armed Forces and fish for the US school lunch program — both contracts require US fish.

Moreover, the local US longline albacore fleet depends on the local canneries, which have been receiving most if not all of the albacore produced by the longline fleet, and “continues to invest in and support our fleet.”

At present, she said, StarKist has provided full funding to complete required independent assessments for the longline fleet to obtain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which is “awarded only to those fishing vessels/fleet(s) that can meet and maintain their high standards of sustainable fishing.”

She stressed that Tautai members are boat owners with American Samoa Longline LImited Entry (ASLLE) Permits and with US longliners operating out of American Samoa. Therefore US vessels with ASLLE permits must adhere to all rules and regulations promulgated by the federal government through its many agencies such as the US National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Coast Guard.

Lutu-Sanchez also outlined for the governor some of the regulations the longline fleet have to abide by. For example, vessel-monitoring systems “VMS” which utilizes satellite-based tracking and monitors vessels at all times, whether in point, on fishing grounds or during vessel transit.

Another regulation is NMFS Observer coverage — where an independent observer monitors a vessel’s fishing trip and the observer reports on details such as catch, interactions with marine mammals if any, compliance with gear requirements such as length of line etc.

There is also the Marine Mammal Certification Process requirement to certify operators that are trained and educated on all regulations in place to provide protection to identified marine mammals.

In his affidavit, Dunham claims 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.”

However, Lutu-Sanchez informed the governor that more than 95% of the catch delivered by the large longliners goes to the canneries — mainly StarKist Samoa and the balance of the catch is either given to families, villages or friends for consumption or cultural and traditional events. “A tiny percentage of the catch, if any, is sold to local restaurants at premium costs when requested by restaurants due to the unavailability of fresh or frozen fish supply on island,” she said.

She also says the notion that there are crowded fishing areas and conflicts between small boats — alia — versus large boats — longliners — “is completely inaccurate and unjustified.”

According to Lutu-Sanchez, Tautai members “are in support of all fishermen and we fully support all efforts to develop and promote fishing whether it is for commercial purposes, recreational or subsistence.”

Additionally, Tautai members have participated voluntarily in numerous community efforts and panels to promote awareness in environmentally responsible and sustainable fishing practices and to encourage participation by locals in this fishery.

Samoa News will report later this week on other issues covered in Lutu-Sanchez’s letter.