Fisheries meeting to discuss options for albacore
The annual meeting of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council is hosted by American Samoa this year and will be held at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium from Mar. 12 - 14.
According to a public notice published Feb. 19 on the Federal Registry, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga will deliver opening remarks for the 156th Council meeting and officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will also deliver opening statements.
While in American Samoa for the Council meeting, “Council staff are looking to meet with local fishermen to get their ideas on other fisheries development projects, including already identified projects such as a vessel loan program, local small vessel boat building program, fisherman training program, and upgrading Pago Pago Harbor longline vessel docks,” Council coordinator Eric Kingma told Samoa News last Friday.
“The Council is also interested in working with local troll and longline fishermen on demonstration projects to conduct fresh fish landings for export markets,” he said via e-mail from Honolulu responding to Samoa News questions.
Besides fishery development issues, a major agenda item at the Council meeting will be management options for the American Samoa South Pacific albacore tuna fishery, said Kingma.
“In recent years, the longline catch of albacore tuna in the South Pacific has risen dramatically, principally from Chinese and Taiwanese vessels fishing on the high seas and in the waters of South Pacific Islands countries,” he explained.
He said albacore tuna is the primary target species for the American Samoa longline fleet, so ensuring conservation of the stock across its range is of great importance, as well as maintaining catch rates in the EEZ around American Samoa at levels that are economically viable for the American Samoa longline fishery.
“We understand that the American Samoa longline fishery is facing tough economic conditions due to the low price of albacore and high operating costs,” he said. “While in American Samoa, the Council is looking forward to discussing management options with participants in the American Samoa longline fleet as well identifying ways to help alleviate some of the difficult conditions they are currently facing, including, for example, local port fees.”
According to a press release from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that advises the Council convenes Feb. 26-28, 2013, at the Council office in Honolulu. Among the key issues to be considered is the management of the American Samoa South Pacific albacore fishery.
The American Samoa longline fishery is the second largest fishery in the US Pacific Islands, the WPFMC says. The fishery is based almost entirely on fishing for South Pacific albacore caught for the American Samoa canning industry, with only a small domestic market, and limited access to overseas markets. This South Pacific albacore is also important to the central South Pacific countries neighboring American Samoa, which also supply the American Samoa canning and fish processing industry.
According to the WPFMC, catches of South Pacific albacore by all fleets south of the equator have more than doubled in the past decade and are currently about 90 percent of maximum sustainable yield. This is due primarily to the doubling of vessels from China fishing under access agreements with the Solomon Islands and switching by Taiwanese longliners from targeting bigeye to targeting albacore.
The SSC and Council will examine options and scenarios to maintain the viability and continuity of the American Samoa longline fishery, the press release states.
LOCAL LONGLINE FISHERY FLEET
The review of the catches of South Pacific albacore comes at a time when the local longline fishery fleet has 'tied up' their vessels citing current poor global fish prices, rising expenses and poor catch numbers. The Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association recently wrote letters to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and StarKist Samoa asking for their help, and noting the fleet's demise.
"Right now, the American Samoa longline fleet is the biggest endangered species, but no one has any interest in the survival of this US fleet, only to regulate it," said one of the members/ boat owner of the Association.
In their letter to the governor, the Association also noted that have requesting the opportunity to have their interests represented on the Western Pacific Fishery Region Management Council, on behalf of the territory, as they believe American Samoa needs strong representation on the Council to protects local interests. To date, they say, they are still awaiting nominations for the council, which currently has two seats now vacant.