Tautai Assoc. asks feds for “temporary moratorium” on regulations re: closed local areas
Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association has requested the federally established Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council for a “temporary moratorium” or waivers” from regulations governing the 50-mile area closures of ocean areas around the islands of American Samoa.
The request, made in a Feb. 10 letter to the Council’s executive director Kitty Simmonds, provided justification and details of the request. A verbal request was first made during a meeting last Saturday between the association and staff of the Council, who were on island at the time.
According to the association’s letter, the request “is not to abolish area closure, but to allow a set time for larger vessels to access areas of closed areas for a short-period of time”. Further, all regulations will be in full effect at the end of the identified time period.
“We request access to areas outside of 12-mile zone to be consistent with most countries that have identified the 12-mile zone as territorial waters and off-limits to larger vessels,” the letter says.
It also says that larger longliners target albacore, a highly migratory species and are caught at different depths from yellowfin, bigeye, skipjack, or marlin, wahoo, etc.
“It is not likely that such higher migratory species — albacore — have been accumulating in these closed areas, however, having access to some of this area will allow the vessels to follow schools of albacore through such areas if identified in or near these areas and its boundaries,” the letter pointed out.
According to Tautai, as there is no data of impact of this area closure to the pelagic stock or the American Samoa fleet, and catch data from a temporary moratorium would allow for essential data to be collected and assist with effectively managing ocean resources.
It went on to say only two smaller vessels have been longlining in the closed areas for at least seven or more years, and the catch has not improved even though there are no larger vessels close to where they set.
Further, catch logs and records of smaller alias will show that alia longliners mostly fish in areas closer than 10 miles from shore — mostly less than 5 miles if the trips are daily.
It also says that having the larger longliners close to smaller vessels will also serve as a safety net for the smaller vessels — like alias — if there is a distress call as there are no U.S. Coast Guard vessels on duty in American Samoa’s exclusive economic zone to respond within a timely manner.
Other justification and details:
• alternate and more effective methods could be shared with the alias to address bleak catch rates experienced by alias; and
• aside from different areas, the difference in “fishing times” prevents any conflicts.
The longliners fish at night while the alias and sports-fishermen fish during the day “when the longliners are only watching and waiting to pick-up their lines”, the association’s letter notes.
Tautai had first asked Gov. Lolo for a temporary waiver of current regulations to allow Tautai’s vessels to fish within the 50-mile zone around American Samoa. However, the governor informed the group late last week that “we cannot accommodate this request at this time”, adding that 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,” Lolo said. (See Samoa News edition on Feb. 11th for more details)
Tautai said the group is grateful the Council’s staff will be assisting fleet owners with identifying financial assistance “during this most difficult time for the fleet” and welcomed “the support.”
Tautai also wrote that it will provide information needed by the staff to proceed with any and all financial assistance programs that the American Samoa longline fleet can qualify for, or benefit from.
In closing, the group said, “this is a very serious and desperate situation” for the local longline fleet “and we must continue to pursue all options to be able to survive.
Early this year, the longline fleet put up for sale their 18 boats, after facing numerous challenges, such as low price of fish stock and stiff competition from Chinese subsidized vessels.