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Fono calls for WestPac to leave 50nm zone in place

The American Samoa Legislature is requesting that the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council  (WPRFMC) maintain in effect the 50 nautical mile (nm) zone which prohibits large vessel fishing in the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of American Samoa waters, and objects to any reduction in the current restricted area.


According to the resolution, the respective Deeds of Cession for Tutuila, Aunu’u, Manu’a and Rose Islands ceded the territory to the United States of America, and included preservation and protection of the waters surrounding the islands as well as protection of the individual rights of the people.


“In accordance with said Deeds, the US pledged to protect and respect the rights of the people.” American Samoa is a member of the WPRFMC which manages fisheries within the US EEZ in the territory and pursuant to the provision of the federal Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.


The Council has recently recommended a temporary reduction of the current Large vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) from 50nm to 25nm around the islands of American Samoa.


The resolution notes the Pago Alia Fishing Association (PAFA) is a very active fishing organization comprised of indigenous Samoan fisherman using the traditional catamaran style fishing vessels that range from 26 to 30 feet in length.


“Presently there are approximately 30 fishing Alia that are fishing in the US EEZ in the territory. PAFA is opposed to the proposal for the changes in the LVPA for many valid reasons, and the US EEZ extends no more than 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline.”


The resolution also notes that the US EEZ in American Samoa does not have full access to this 200 nm. “One— because it shares borders with five other countries, Tokelau to the north, the Cook Islands to the east, Niue to the South, the Kingdom of Tonga to the southwest and Samoa to the west and based on this limited EEZ, any amount of sea area taken away from the indigenous Samoa fishermen is a very serious issue.”


The resolution says that Fishery resources are the major if not the only source of American Samoa’s natural resources for the territory. Furthermore, the resolution says some of the off shore reef banks are more than 25 nm from shore, and the proposed reduction of the LVPA to 25 nm will not protect some of the most productive fishing grounds from fishing vessels larger than 50 feet.


The Alia longliners set their lines close to these banks so they can use their bottom fishing while their longliner gear is soaking for at least eight hours. “If larger vessels are allowed the opportunity to do the same, it will quickly deplete our already limited resources. The enforcement system for fishing activities in American Samoa is limited and it would be problematic to monitor and control such activities.”


The Lolo and Lemanu Administration has been a strong supporter in the development of the local Alia fishing fleet. The resolution says financial support from the government has helped subsidize the cost of fuel and fishing equipment for the Alia fleet and these efforts from the new administration are making great progress for the indigenous Samoan fisherman.


The support by ASG is also consistent with the findings of the American Samoa Economic Advisory Commission, as reported to the President of the United States in 2002. “Said report identifies development of the American Samoa fishing fleet as a potential growth industry and reduction of the LVPA will seriously hamper these efforts at implementation of this plan.”


The resolution also notes that funds for developing the indigenous fishing fleet to the next level of fishing vessels —40 to 50 feel in length— will help initiate longline fishing again.


“The council staff in American Samoa is working on designing a Super Alia, that will be able to stay out for more than three days and carry more loads.  These efforts, once recognized, will help local indigenous fisherman to utilize the whole 50nm LVPA zone to its fullest capacity.”


As stated in the Council’s pelagic fishery ecosystem plan, the LVPA had two functions: to prevent purse seine fishing in the vicinity of the islands of American Samoa and to provide a buffer zone between the large conventional mono-hull longline vessels and smaller, outboard powered artisanal Alia longliners— and for these reasons, the LVPA zone of 50nm should not be altered for the benefit of the exclusive natural resources available to the indigenous Samoan fishermen.