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U.S. fishers dispute that change in ELAPS would benefit American Samoa

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two US based fishery companies are of the opinion that splitting the fishing days in the Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS) will hurt the cannery in American Samoa and it will be a challenge to the cannery’s fish supply.

Through a proposed rule making, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) outlined how it will allocate the additional 100 fishing days for the US purse seiner fleet fishing in the region to help American Samoa’s economy and its tuna canneries.

The NMFS is also proposing to set separate limitations on fishing days for the purse seiner fleet to fish in the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and on the high seas areas known as the ELAPS. The proposed rule making is the result of decisions made last December by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. See last Friday’s Samoa News edition for details.

Deadline for public comment submission was last Friday through federal portal, which has released more public comments on the proposed rule making.

Among the recent comments is a May 22 letter from Stuart Chikami with the Las Vegas-based Western Pacific Fisheries, Inc. who argued, among other things, that separating the ELAS will have a severe negative economic impact on a majority of the US fleet, and arguably the entire US fleet, and has the potential to further damage the supply of tuna to American Samoa.

In the US tuna purse seine fleet, the number of vessels that still have a US fisheries endorsement, which allows them to utilize US EEZ days is very limited, said Chikami.

“As a result, it is almost a certainty that the US fleet will not use a significant number of those days, and the unused portion, which in the past could be used by the entire fleet on the high seas, will be wasted, and the larger US fleet will need to spend significant amounts of capital to purchase additional access from the Pacific Islands, assuming additional days are even available, which is uncertain,” he said.

In regards to American Samoa and its tuna canning industry, Chikami said, the implementation of the proposed separation of the ELAS “could significantly challenge the fish supply of American Samoa by potentially closing off high seas areas much earlier than has been in recent past.”

“There are very productive high seas areas that have been historically part of the US fleets' area of operation within range of American Samoa for direct delivery,” he said, adding that closing these areas earlier will force the US fleet to modify their operations and possibly shift vessels to operate further from American Samoa.

“The further the vessels move away, the more economically viable transshipping to other areas becomes. Additionally, the overlap area is also in range for direct deliveries to the cannery in American Samoa to be economically viable,” he said.

San Diego-based vessel owner, Jim Sousa in his May 22 comment letter, argued that the proposal to separate out the days between high seas and the US EEZ “provides no conservation benefits, nor does it have any effect in fishing effort.”

“What it does do is to put the vessels that support American Samoa in an economic disadvantage, which in turn, hurts the cannery and possible employment for the people in American Samoa,” he points out.

He noted that the further vessels have to go away from American Samoa to fish, “the less likely we will return to American Samoa to unload, as it becomes economically unreasonable to do so.”

“This can create shortages of fish to the cannery in American Samoa, thus having a negative effect on employment for the cannery and ancillary businesses,” he explained. “There is simply not a consistent amount of fish available in the US EEZ, for those vessels that can fish there, to offset the reduced fishing days in the high seas.”

Sousa declared that, this “proposal will hurt both the US vessels, and the people of American Samoa.”