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Longline fleet to tie up boats, post FOR SALE signs

reporters@samoanews.com

Following a meeting last Thursday, the vessel owners of the American Samoa longline fleet reached a “consensus to tie up” their boats after their concerns raised locally and with federal officials have not received much attention or have not come to fruition.
 
According to a news release yesterday by the Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association, which is made up of locally based U.S. fishing vessels, a special meeting was called to discuss the concerns of owners on current conditions that are making it very challenging to continue operations.
 
“All vessel owners have further agreed to post all fishing vessels FOR SALE as the future of this fishery or support for the fishery does not seem imminent,” the statement says.
 
“Aside from increasing operating costs, steady decrease in fish prices — the continuous low catch rates have made it no longer feasible to continue operating these fishing boats unless conditions improve,” it says.
 
These same concerns were listed in a letter in February this year to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga when the new administration took office. And copies of the letter were also provided to cabinet members with jurisdiction over fishery-related matters such as the directors of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), Port Administration (DPA) and the Department of Commerce (DoC).
 
In the Feb. 6 letter to the governor, boat owners pointed out that “most of our vessels are tied up mainly due to dramatic decreased fish prices that make it not possible for us to break even when taking into consideration current catch rates, increased fuel prices, bait prices and general supplies.”
 
The new administration was also informed that within a few months, the albacore price dropped by almost $1,000 per metric ton of albacore. (Samoa News should point out that the local longliners have raised this same matter with the previous administration — with no response.)
 
One major issue of concern raised in the letter is what the owners say, “are numerous port charges for vessels that call our port home” and they have asked for the governor’s consideration to relieve some of these charges or waive them for the local fleet.
 
“Our vessels are always here and we will always pay. Yet, we are charged the full costs on all fees,” the letter noted. “This is not the same for government boats and/or other vessels that are given special relief. These vessels come here maybe once or twice a year.”
 
Additionally, the American Samoa longliners “are like children without a home,” it says. “We are too small to carry any weight on the main dock, so whenever a large vessel comes into port, we have to scramble to find dock space.”
 
“Yet, when our vessels are sent to the marina dock, we have to pay twice as much to dock there in addition to the costs charged by Port Administration,” the owners complained.
 
In their news release yesterday, the owners say that while a meeting has been requested with the director of DMWR, the local department in charge of fisheries, a meeting has yet to be granted.
 
Instead, earlier in the year, all commercial longline vessels were banned from the marina area, citing federal regulations, the statement says and pointed out with interest that longliners could utilize the marina area if fees are paid to the DMWR.
 
The statement also says the boat owners recognize that the local fleet does not bring in direct federal grants for the DMWR, which explains why the priority for the director of the DMWR is on coral reefs and protecting other endangered species.
 
“Although without any support locally or federally, the American Samoa longline fleet will soon become a notion of the past or classified as endangered species also,” the statement said, adding that the only directors that have “reached out to try and understand our situation” is DoC director Keniseli Lafaele and Port Administration director Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele.
 
Longline Services Inc., president Carlos Sanchez told Samoa News that he met several times with Lafaele, who “is the only one that has showed some interest in having a conversation with us.” Additionally, a group of boat owners have also met with Lafaele and his staff.
 
In tomorrow’s edition other issues raised by the longline boat owners, such as the Chinese fishing fleet increasing its presence and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s stand.
 
GOVERNOR’S OFFICE
 
Responding to Samoa News questions late last week prior to yesterday’s news release by the longline boat owners, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said he has not seen the longline owners’ proposal to the governor detailing the types of assistance they want and expect from the government.
 
Iulogologo did say that the issue of docking space was brought to the governor's attention by the directors of DMWR and Port Administration and this “prompted the decision to allow the Marine and Wildlife Resources Dock to temporarily accommodate the needs of the local fishing fleet while a long term solution is being pursued.”
 
(Apparently this is not happening as noted in Tautai’s press release.)
 
Additionally, the governor has written to Lt. Col. Thomas Asbery, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District, to investigate the best location to construct additional docking space here. Moreover, the Port Administration director has made a commitment to the local fishing fleet to accommodate their docking needs.
 
“These projects take time because prevailing federal regulations must be complied with and the federal permitting system is long and tedious,” said Iulogologo.
 
“Further, these new infrastructural demands require the identification of funds while American Samoa's federal Capital Improvement Project (CIP) shares for fiscal years 2013 to 2015 have been allocated,” he said.
 
Iulogologo went on to say that ASG does not determine the price of fish, but “it appears to me that the fishing vessel owners are expecting the government to subsidize their loss of income attributed to the drop in the price of fish.”
 
“The Government is taking aggressive steps to respond to issues for which it has control by attempting to construct new docking space to meet their needs,” he said.
 
Iulogologo revealed that out-going Chamber of Commerce chairman David Robinson had recommended to the governor an ASG fuel subsidy for the local fleet, but when the issue was raised with the local fuel suppliers, “the government was told that American Samoa has the cheapest price for marine diesel fuel in the Pacific.”
 
“The people of American Samoa are paying a high electricity rate due to the cost of fuel and they bear the full financial burden of the high extra low sulfur diesel,” he said.
 
“The government recognizes the important economic contribution of the fishing vessels to the economy of American Samoa and it will do all it can, based on its financial wherewithal to support the fishing vessels,” Iulogologo said. “The government is already taking steps to address the concerns and the needs of the fishing vessels.”
 
Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley contributed to this report.



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