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Tautai reiterates to the governor why it supports reduction of the LVPA

[SN file photo]

Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association has again informed Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga that reduction of the Large Vessel Protect Area (LVPA) from 50 to 12 miles in waters of American Samoa was for the survival of the US longline fleet fishing out of Pago Pago.

Association President Christinna S. Lutu-Sanchez’s four-page letter last week to the governor was 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, where the Territory of American Samoa, through ASG, filed a lawsuit last March, seeking to overturn a US National Marine Fisheries Service decision early last year reducing the LVPA, reserved for the local alia fleet. (See yesterday’s edition for part one of Lutu-Sanchez’s letter.)

In the letter, the Tautai president stressed that the LVPA was created in 2002 to allow small longline boats — less than 50 feet — to develop and to grow. Since it’s peak in early 2000, the number of longliners fishing in the area decreased from 70 to 15 and the number of small vessels decreased form 37 in 2000 to “zero” in recent years.

According to Lutu-Sanchez, the fleet of US longliners operating in US/American Samoa exclusive economic zone (EEZ) decreased tremendously over time “mainly due to poor catch rates and direct economic conditions.”

She also notes that none of the local canneries received any fish from the local alia fleet in recent years, while the longliners do supply the canneries with fish.

The association’s president points out that a Tautai member, who owns a fleet of alia, has stopped operating due to the lack of profitability of commercial long lining with alias. “It is not affordable to continue operating a commercial long lining business with an alia or fleet of alias,” she said.

Lutu-Sanchez again explained the reason Tautai requested the LVPA be amended, and that it was “to not only provide relief to a desperately struggling US fleet but also to maximize opportunities and effectively manage the usage of our ocean resources.”

She noted that there was opposition to its request, in which hearings were held over a two-year period but was approved by NMFS after extensive and lengthy review.

“Tautai members believe that opposition to our request... was mainly politically motivated and not justified by the realities of the fishery or condition of the fleet,” she said.

As to claim about gear conflict between longliners and alia boats, Lutu-Sanchez informs the governor that there has not been any gear conflict anywhere in the US/ American Samoa EEZ before or after the LVPA amendment.

Additionally, none of the crews/ captains of the large longliners have ever seen smaller fishing vessels fishing next to them ever. “The only interactions have been with incidents where large longliners have extended assistance to rescue small fishing boats in distress when they have ventured or drifted far from shore or outside the 12 miles.

In his affidavit, Dunham said one area of “extreme concern is fishing at the banks inside the 50-mile boundary.” He claims that there is a “fear” that the longliners “will lay their hooks close to the banks depleting fish supply and ruining the reef.”

But Lutu-Sanchez explained that large longliners do not target bottom fish or fish on the banks in the US/ American Samoa EEZ. “Fishing gear for large longliners are quite expensive, and it is not logical nor advisable to risk losing gear and equipment worth more than $35,000 to fish in shallow areas for a specie — albacore — that requires a deep set and hopes to produce at the most about $2,500 per set,” she pointed out.

On the issue of local fish consumption, Lutu-Sanchez said there is a limited demand due to American Samoa’s small population. However, this small demand has yet to be met by the alia fishermen as  there continues to be ice chests/coolers of fish imported weekly from neighboring Samoa, via the MV Lady Naomi, she said.

Additionally, there is not enough supply of locally-caught fish to sell at the Fagatogo Market place fish market, created specifically for catch produced by the alia, which is managed by the Commerce Department and it has been mostly closed since it was constructed due to the lack of fish supply.

American Samoa “is home for all Tautai members and managing our ocean resources wisely is of utmost importance to our membership as this is how we provide for our families and village,” she wrote to the governor. “We would not agree to any ideas that would be detrimental to our environment or to the sustainability of our ocean resources.”

In closing, Lutu-Sanchez said these facts have been previously provided to the governor and also all justified by available data collected and assessed by relevant managing federal governmental agencies.”

“We trust that you would agree that it is imperative to give all fishermen here — not just a select few — fair and equal attention and treatment,” she wrote.

Lutu-Sanchez is one of the three American Samoa members of the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.