Governor responds to issues raised by local longline fishing association
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has responded to issues that were raised by Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association during a meeting held with the association last month. The governor’s response in a Feb. 6 letter set forth the administration’s responses to major issues raised by the association, whose members also met with the governor and his team last week before the letter was sent out.
5% EXCISE TAX
Lolo says the government will not impose the excise tax on miscellaneous fish, which is the fish the canneries do not buy from the longliners and is therefore sold to local stores and other local entities.
According to the governor, he is aware of the limited docking space at Pago Pago Harbor where priority docking rights are given to the cruise ships, followed by cargo ships, then fishing vessels.
For a short term solution, Lolo has instructed Port Administration to identify suitable locations within the harbor that may be used by fishing vessels to anchor. “This is only a temporary solution until we install additional buoys to provide better docking,” he said.
As for the use of existing buoys to dock, Lolo says there is only one buoy that is used for quarantine purposes and this buoy — which has the capacity to dock four vessels at a time — will also be made available to fishing vessels.
Lolo also shared with the fishing association the government’s plans to install 12 new buoys around the harbor area for fishing vessels, and each buoy has the capacity to hold up to four vessels.
“Once these buoys are installed, we will have the capacity to dock 52 ships by buoy within the harbor areas,” he said adding it’s estimated installation of these news buoys will take about one month at a total cost of $20,000.
For the long term solution, Lolo explained a permanent solution is, of course , construction of new docking space and the government is exploring options to construct a new dock in the harbor area that would be dedicated to longline and commercial fishing vessels.
According to the governor this facility will include appropriate amenities to support the fishing industry, including showers and laundry facilities. This option, he noted, requires further due diligence and careful analysis, as well as the input and support from all interested parties such as the longline fishing fleet.
LoLo says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been notified of local efforts to construct a new docking facility. Additionally, StarKist is also in the process of extending its current dock to avail more docking space for fishing vessels.
Currently, Tautai longliners are subject to Immigration, Customs, health, public safety and agriculture clearances, Lolo said, and noted these same clearances are conducted on all other ships arriving into American Samoa, except for the MV Sili traveling between Tutuila and Manu’a.
Lolo says the group had requested to eliminate certain clearances because Tautai fish within the territory's Exclusive Economic Zone and never leave American Samoa or U.S. waters.
“For national security reasons, we cannot accomplish this request,” Lolo said and pointed out Tautai vessels fish in waters that are over 50 miles away from American Samoa and they are usually gone for about 4-5 weeks during each trip.
“Given the significant distance traveled by these ships and extensive time away from the territory, it is imperative that we conduct these clearances to ensure that these vessels are not used to smuggle illegal immigrants, contraband or other unlawful items into the territory,” Lolo said.
“However, to alleviate any inconvenience caused by these inspections, we are considering proposals to issue a single surcharge to cover all clearances conducted by government agencies upon arrival,” he said. “We will also enact appropriate procedures to ensure that ASG employees performing these regulatory duties do not engage in abusive activities.”
Tautai has requested to have representation on regional forums such as the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, and Lolo said Tautai’s collective experience in commercial fishing “would be invaluable in our preparation for these meetings.”
“As such we will take the initiative to inform you of regional conferences on fish management issues and include you in our preparations for these conferences,” he said, and noted Tautai is free to attend any regional meetings to observe discussion on fishery issues.
As to the group’s request for ASG to identify potential sources of soft loans or grants, Lolo said he has asked the director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources to follow up on this and work with Tautai members to pursue potential loans or grants.
Lolo also says he has “carefully considered” the group’s request for a temporary waiver of current regulations to allow Tautai’s vessels to fish within the 50-mile zone around American Samoa.
“Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate this request at this time,” the governor said. “This no-access zone was put in place for safety and conservation reasons. More informally, in my view, this zone preserves the Samoan culture. It ensures that local Samoans that still practice the art of fishing handed down from our forefathers will have access to sufficient supplies of fish for their needs.”