Last remaining U.S. albacore fleet appeals to ASG for help
An ASG committee has already been selected to identify problems faced by the American Samoa longliner fishing fleet, which has raised with the Lolo Administration several concerns, including dock fees and lack of dock space.
One of the committee members, Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele said the panel was selected “about three months ago” by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, as he wants to assist the local fleet.
Members of the committee are Lafaele as head of DOC; Port Administration director Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele; Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi Tofiga; the Governor’s Legal Counsel Steven Watson; and Territorial Energy Office acting director at the time, Timothy Jones Sr., who is also a boat owner.
“The committee … is tasked with identifying problems faced by our local fleet of long liners and coming up with solutions to assist with the plight faced by our long line fleet,” Lafaele told Samoa News.
He said the panel has met a couple of times and key concerns raised “were docking fees and lack of docking space.” While a chair for the committee has not yet been selected, he said Poumele and Matagi-Tofiga, both of whom have direct contact relating to fisheries “pretty much led our discussions.”
“We will convene this week to finalize our recommendations for the Governor to consider and then implement if approved,” he added.
Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association announced in a news release Tuesday afternoon that following a meeting last Thursday, owners of the local longline fleet reached a “consensus to tie up” their boats and they further agreed to “post all fishing vessels FOR SALE as the future of this fishery or support for the fishery does not seem imminent. (See yesterday’s edition for more details.)
“The problems leading up to this hopeless situation did not happen overnight, and fishermen and boat owners alike have continuously shared these grave concerns with local leaders and members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) including its March 2013 meeting in American Samoa, but such pleas have been outright ignored,” according to the statement.
In a Feb. 28 letter, prior to the March meeting here, longline boat owners informed WPRFMC executive director Kitty Simmonds that the “most important matter that we are faced with now is the current albacore market and its impact on the American Samoa longline fleet.
The letter pointed out that most of the local vessels are currently tied up at the dock hopefully awaiting a change in conditions for vessels to resume operating again.
Furthermore the albacore price dropped dramatically over a few months to around $1,000 per metric ton and it’s impossible to continue targeting only albacore at this time for that price considering catch rates and cost of essentials such as bait and fuel.
Boat owners also said that they want to make sure that any quotas set for big eye catch and/or regulations for our fishery will not impede efforts to survive in this commercial fishing industry.
“In addition to exploring other options for our fleet in order to survive, we would also like to know if there is any financial assistance that boat owners/ fishermen can apply for through programs that the Council administers,” the letter states.
Local businessman Carlos Sanchez and president of Longline Services, Inc., owner of six local longliners, told Samoa News that “everyone talks about helping the alia fleet” and the Council even paid more then $500,000 for facilities for the Manu'a fishermen.”
“What help has the longliner fleet here gotten or received any support? Nothing— zero,” he added.
In their news release, boat owners said the closed areas within the American Samoa Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have worsened the condition especially as it costs more to operate outside and around the closed areas, and since the targeted albacore is a highly migratory species, it is impossible for the longliners to follow the fish once it gets to the boundaries of a closed area.
They also said that a major factor causing low fish prices is the abundant supply of albacore that is being dumped by subsidized foreign longliners— mostly by the Chinese government.
Additionally, invasion of regional waters by the Chinese longline fleet is not only affecting the American Samoa longline fleet but also the fleets of neighboring countries such as the Cook Islands and Fiji.
“It is very difficult to compete against a fleet [when] their government subsidizes fuel and other costs and their government fights in the international arena for their rights to fish in our region and purchases fishing permits for them,” Sanchez said.
“The U.S. government or the WPRFMC does not represent the interests of the American Samoa fleet in the same capacity as we are not a priority to them. Everyone knows the problems, but no one wants to do anything about it,” he added.
Boat owners say that only Lafaele and Poumele “have reached out to try and understand our situation” and they testified earlier this month at the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission meeting in Cairns, Australia on the “impact that such foreign fleets have had on our local fleet.”
“Unfortunately, their presentation did not receive the attention or support by the major players, including the U.S. delegation, in these negotiations with China dominating, as they were able to block any votes prohibiting them from expanding their longline fleet in our region,” they said.
They also emphasized that the American Samoa longline fleet is made up of U.S. flagged vessels operating out of American Samoa and fishing within the American Samoa EEZ under the American Samoa longline limited entry program which is administered by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services.
“It is the last remaining U.S. albacore fleet in the United States,” the statement says.
“Similarly, longliners that are operating out of American Samoa but who fish in neighboring countries such as Cook Islands are also experiencing the same challenges, and many have also chosen to tie up their vessels until conditions improve.
According to the release, longline vessels home ported in American Samoa deliver most if not all of their catch to Starkist Samoa, and purchase all requirements such as fuel, food, gear and spare parts from American Samoa vendors and companies.
Furthermore, repair and maintenance of engines, machinery and equipment are also completed in American Samoa.
Rasela Feliciano, president of the Tautai O Samoa Fishing Association, said American Samoa’s small island economy is a fragile one with numerous challenges when trying to sustain new industries and businesses, and it is difficult to entice new businesses to enter.
“The American Samoa longline fleet was created and provided for by boat owners themselves without any cost to the local government,” said Feliciano, owner of three local longliners, adding, “It will be more difficult to try and establish another fleet in American Samoa than to try and keep or support the existing one. Unfortunately, this fact is not recognized.”
Most of the longline vessels are now tied up at the main dock area, and the few vessels that are fishing will tie up as soon as their current trips are completed, according to the association.
“It is unfortunate that we have to do this as all boats and crews contribute to the local economy directly, but the decision to sell the boats is a business decision that is unavoidable with the current conditions and without support from the local or federal government”, concluded John Gibbs, an owner of two local longliners.
Samoa News should point out a recent news report on Fiji’s $300 million tuna industry says it’s ”gasping for breath”. According to www.atuna.com, 12 tuna companies in Fiji are struggling for survival and the main problem is “state-subsidized foreign vessels” flooding the international market with fish.
The article, “Fiji’s 300-Million Dollar Tuna Industry Is Gasping For Breath”, Dec. 17, 2013, reports Graham Southwick, President of the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA) saying he cannot see a solution to the problems in the next five years. “He explained that the only long-term solution was for the region to work together to place their concerns on the agenda of international tuna meetings.”
According to the article, the FTBOA is seeking assistance from the government on alternative fisheries and “the association has stressed that the increasing existence of foreign boats in Pacific waters has made it difficult for local tuna fishing companies to compete for the same tuna stock.”
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