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176th Fisheries Council meeting concludes — it’s a mixed bag

Chairman Taotasi Archie Soliai; Council executive director Kitty Simonds; and Rear Admiral Kevin Lunday, commander of the Honolulu-based 14th District of the US Coast Guard

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded their three-day 176th Council Meeting in Honolulu yesterday after dealing since Tuesday with a mixed bag of good and bad news about the future of fisheries in Hawai'i and the US Pacific islands.

The Council discussed the ongoing UN Intergovernmental Conference on Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which is considering a framework to establish fishing closures on the high seas. The Council asked the Department of State, which has a non-voting representative on the Council, to exempt high seas fisheries targeting tuna and tuna-like species from any potential high seas closures established under the new BBNJ convention. About 70 percent of the fishing effort of the Hawai'i based longline fishery is on the high seas.

Besides area closures, the fisheries of Hawai'i, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are dealing with Congressional legislation that have restricted the sale of billfish and may prohibit the commercial sale of legally caught sharks. The Billfish Conservation Act amendment that was signed into law in 2018 requires that billfish caught by fisheries in Hawai'i and the US Pacific Islands territories must be retained in the islands.

As a positive for American Samoa, on Tuesday during the opening session, “Rear Admiral Kevin Lunday confirmed that they are considering increased Coast Guard patrol presence near American Samoa, and this will help patrol for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing,” council chairman Archie Soliai Taotasi told Samoa News via email from Honolulu on Wednesday.

Taotasi says he thanked Lunday “for continuing the Coast Guard outreach program for foreign fishing vessels delivering and based in Apia, Samoa. Hopefully this will give confidence to the fishing vessels to return to Pago Pago for direct delivery to the cannery.” 

Taotasi is a StarKist Samoa official and the Council meeting is being live streamed on its website.

At yesterday’s session, during the American Samoa report, the Council held a discussion regarding the assignment duration of the head or supervisor of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Unit in American Samoa.

American Samoa member, Christinna Lutu-Sanchez recommended a longer period of deployment, instead of the current one-year tenure.

Lutu-Sanchez, who is also president of Tautai-O-Samoa Longline & Fishing Association, said consistency in terms of longer deployment — perhaps two years — is helpful to the fishing fleet in working to address Coast Guard regulations and other issues.

In the end, the Council endorsed a recommendation, directing staff to communicate with the Coast Guard's 14th District — which oversees American Samoa — “requesting their assistance in finding a solution, or innovative methodology, to address continuity concerns caused by a one-year rotation of active duty member service for the Marine Safety Detachment Unit in American Samoa”.

Taotasi is chairing his first Council meeting this week, after he was appointed last October, during a Council meeting in the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam.

“This is a very humbling opportunity,” he said.

 He told Samoa News that the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — which covers Hawai’i, CNMI, Guam, and American Samoa — “encompasses, perhaps, the largest ocean mass of all the US Regional Councils, and is faced with a myriad of challenges that negatively impact its fisheries.”

“I am hopeful that we can work together with our local and federal partners, as well as all stakeholders to reduce these challenges,” he said from Honolulu.

Taotasi’s term began January this year, along with other new appointments approved last October: Lutu-Sanchez, as vice chair, American Samoa; Dean Sensui, vice chair, Hawaii; Michael Duenas, vice chair, Guam; and John Gourley, vice chair, CNMI.

American Samoa’s third member on the Council is the government’s representative, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara.