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U.S. House passes South Pacific Tuna Treaty Act

Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata

Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata is welcoming bipartisan passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill she led as sponsor, with Congressman Ed Case (D-HI) as the original cosponsor, the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Act, H.R. 1792.

H.R. 1792 is bipartisan congressional direction of full implementation for the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which has already been diplomatically negotiated among the U.S. and Pacific nations, and legislation is expected to be considered by the U.S. Senate.

“As the representative of the beautiful islands of American Samoa in the South Pacific, a marine economy which depends on fishing, I welcome broad support in Congress for implementing our treaty with our regional friends and neighbors in the South Pacific,” said Congresswoman Amata. “This bill implements U.S. international diplomacy to help ensure that our tuna agreements improve operations and flexibility for our fleet – America’s last true distant water fishing fleet. I appreciate working with Chairman Bruce Westerman, Ranking Member Grijalva, and Congressman Case on this priority.”

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said, “H.R. 1792 enhances the effectiveness, clarity, and enforceability of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty of 1988, addressing concerns and improving the regulatory framework governing fishing activities between the United States and the PIPs. This bipartisan, common sense bill will give more flexibility to the U.S. fishing industry and benefit all Americans. Representative Radewagen is no stranger to these issues given American Samoa’s abundant fishing resources, and I’d like to thank her for her leadership and the strong relationship she brings from the Pacific.”

The bill amends the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Act of 1988 to reflect the amendments to the Treaty adopted in 2016. In 2022, the Senate provided overwhelming bipartisan support for advice and consent to ratification, and this bill would complete this longstanding effort, moving into statute what has been operating under a Memorandum of Understanding, and resolving restrictions. The Treaty stabilizes high seas fishing days and codifies access to various island nations’ EEZ waters.

The bill was passed by the Natural Resources Committee in October. Prior to that, in July, the bill was examined in a legislative hearing by the Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries, on which Amata serves, which heard expert testimony including from William Gibbons-Fly, Executive Director, American Tunaboat Association, who emphasized the last true “distant water fishing fleet” under the U.S. flag operating from Pago Pago Harbor, as “multi-generational, family-owned businesses with a long and storied history as an important part of the U.S. fishing industry.”

Expert testimony noted that the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet has been reduced in a few years time from 34 vessels to 13 vessels, due to numerous severe economic challenges from increased regulation, reduced access, and more competition especially from Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

(Source: Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata’s D.C. staff)

BACKGROUND

In March of this year, the Director of Marine & Wildlife Resources Taotasi Archie Solia wrote a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service of his “deep concern regarding the non-recognition of the US-flagged American Samoa based purse seine fleet as a locally based American Samoa fleet, and the detrimental impact this oversight” is having on the territory’s “fragile and marginalized economy”.

His letter noted that there are now only 11 locally based US purse seiners, while “China’s fleet has grown exponentially in the last two decades to approximately 80 longliners, 500 purse seiners and 25 fish carriers.”

He pointed out that “Chinese policy with respect to food security and support for their fisheries far outweigh that of the US.”