Am Samoa delivers urgent message at WestPac

American Samoa has urged the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to expedite effective measures to control South Pacific albacore catches, not only on the high seas but in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the region’s countries and territories.


Department of Port Administration director Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, who is one of two ASG members on the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC), delivered the territory’s firm message at this week's 10th Meeting of the WCPFC held in Cairns, Australia.


She told the meeting that American Samoa, like many of its Pacific island neighbors, is highly dependent on South Pacific albacore for our "domestic longline fishery and local processing facilities,” according to a copy of her remarks provided by ASG’s delegation, through the governor’s office. 


Additionally, catches of South Pacific albacore in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have risen dramatically in recent years, both on the high seas and in the EEZs.  Moreover, this large increase in South Pacific albacore catch in recent years is affecting local fisheries.


“Our Pago Pago based longline fleet, which has been subject to limited entry since 2005, and principally fishes in the EEZ around American Samoa, is currently tied-up and facing substantial economic impact due to poor catch rates and low ex-vessel prices,” she pointed out.


She also said that it’s unfortunate that the WCPFC has been “slow to respond to warning signals” associated with South Pacific albacore, “but we cannot wait any longer.”


“We must strengthen the existing measure to limit the total catch of South Pacific albacore, both on the high seas and within EEZs,” she noted.


And if the WCPFC does not act to adopt an effective measure at this week’s meeting, the long-term sustainability of South Pacific albacore and the fisheries of Pacific Island CCMs (or Commission Members, Cooperating Non-Members, and participating Territories) “that depend on it, will be in jeopardy. We cannot delay any longer.”


In closing, she urged representatives at the meeting to support the adoption of measures to limit South Pacific albacore catches in the region. 


The outcome of any proposed measures discussed by WCPFC should be made public soon, as the meeting closed yesterday afternoon (Australia time).


Besides Poumele, the territory is also represented at the meeting by recreational fisherman William Sword — one of the four vice chairs of WPFMC — and Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele.


Data contained within the many reports presented at the Cairns meeting states that the  South Pacific albacore catch in 2012 (89,258 mt - metric tonnage) was a 24% increase over 2011 and a 22% increase over 2007–2011.


Additionally, longline catches (86,064 mt) increased 25% from 2011 and 22% from 2007–2011.


Troll and other catches (3,158 mt) were down 8% on 2011, but up 15% on 2007–2011.


One report emphasized that increasing catch and efforts on South Pacific albacore has occurred from 2009 to 2012, “which is a concern” and current measures to limit catches “appear not to be effective.”


Another report states that China and Chinese Taipei have the highest catch estimates of South Pacific albacore in 2012 (24,810 mt and 11,742 mt respectively). The Chinese catch is more than double last year’s and is the highest annual catch by a flag-country over the reporting period.


Most of this increase is due to fishing on the high seas, where the 2012 estimated catch is 17,051 mt compared to 8,190 mt in 2011, according to a report presented to the meeting on the South Pacific albacore.


China's fishing activities have been of global concern over the last 10+ years, especially in light of the fact that the industry is highly subsidized by the Chinese government and its yearly official catch count a 'state secret'.

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