American Tunaboat Assoc. voices opposition to fishing restrictions

Says closures have been estimated to cost AS upwards of $100 million annually

US based American Tunaboat Association (ATA) has argued that the 2014 expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument  (PRIMNM) by President Obama “had a particularly detrimental impact on the U.S. fishermen...and on the economy and prosperity of the American Samoa”, whose economy is 80% dependent on the canneries.

“ATA strongly supports removing all fishing restrictions in all Marine National Monuments, thus restoring the conservation and management processes for highly migratory fish stocks established by U.S. law,” wrote ATA executive director Brian Hallman in a letter last Friday to the US Interior Department which sought public comments on the federal agency’s review of marine monuments designated by previous US Presidents going back to 1996.

When the PRIMNM was expanded, the ATA was among the first to voice its opposition, with Hallman telling Samoa News at the time that the now closed waters of the Pacific Remote Islands are “traditional fishing grounds” for the US fleet, based in American Samoa.

In his letter, Hallman reiterated what he had said in the past in public forums and  interviews with Samoa News, that the US purse seiner fleet consists of 40 vessels and about half of them land their catch in American Samoa, where the tuna industry accounts for approximately 80% of the private sector economy, and where the tuna processing sector is the largest private employer.

Hallman told DOI that the purse seiner vessels that utilize American Samoa as a home port contribute significantly to the territory’s economy through the purchase of fuel, oil, deck supplies/other local supplies, maintenance/repairs, hotels, restaurants, staff payroll, etc.

“We estimate that this economic contribution is between $50 million to $60 million annually, which is directly to the benefit of American Samoa’s economy,” he said, adding that the other half of the US flagged purse seine fleet transships to canneries around the world, including the United States, which is the largest canned tuna market in the world.

Hallman went on to provide comments regarding the impact of marine monument designations under the Antiquities Act on fishing, and the experience of the U.S flagged purse seine tuna fleet regarding marine monument designations.

He claimed that the fundamental purpose of marine monuments, apparently, is to preclude, or at least severely limit, human activity in the designated area. While this may make sense for certain activities such as drilling on the ocean floor or seabed mining, "limiting fishing via marine monuments makes no sense whatsoever,” he argued.

Hallman noted that several anti-fishing groups have publicly stated their desire and intention to prohibit fishing in up to one third of the ocean, regardless of whether the fish stocks involved are already being managed and conserved, and regardless of the best scientific advice.

He contends that the main reason why fishing activities involving U.S. fishermen should never be included in a marine monument designation is that all relevant fisheries are effectively conserved and managed by other legislative and legal means.

For fisheries under U.S. jurisdiction, there is a Congressionally mandated process established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. For fisheries in waters beyond U.S. jurisdiction, there are Treaties or Conventions, to which the U.S. is a Contracting Party.

“A second and related point relative to the establishment of marine monuments is that the prohibitions on fishing found in these unilateral declarations are not based on science,” he explained. “That is not to say that fishing area closures cannot be based on science.”

In fact, he continued, science-based area closures do exist and have at times proven to be effective fisheries management measures. However, he argued that there are established procedures for basing any such measures on meaningful scientific analysis, adding that this is true for both fisheries in U.S. waters and for those involving U.S. fishermen in waters beyond U.S. jurisdiction.

“The existing systems for the conservation and management of fisheries are rigorous and well established, involving some of the best fisheries scientists in the world,” he said. “Why should these scientific processes be bypassed for closures not based on science?”

Regarding the PRIMNM, he said the expansion had a detrimental impact on the U.S. fishermen who he represents, and on the economy and prosperity of American Samoa.

He added that the Obama Administration in June 2014 took action with no advance consultation with U.S. fishing interests. “These closures involved traditional and productive U.S. fishing areas around Johnston Atoll, Jarvis Island, Wake Island, Howland and Baker Islands, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef,” he pointed out, adding that the initial closure intention was to prohibit all commercial activities in these areas but was later modified following an uproar from the US fisheries - including ATA - the US territories in the Pacific, tuna science experts, and the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

“These areas are traditional fishing grounds for U.S. flagged tuna vessels operating mainly out of American Samoa and Honolulu,” he said, adding that the fishing closures dictated by the U.S. monument areas and U.S. EEZs in the central Pacific, along with closures of fishing areas within the EEZ of Kiribati and areas on the high seas by U.S. regulations, “have been estimated to cost American Samoa upwards of $100 million annually, as estimated by NOAA Fisheries.”

Hallman said it's important to note that the US fisheries in these areas are for highly migratory tuna, which are already being effectively conserved and managed via a legally-binding multilateral Treaty. Additionally, tuna fishing by U.S. vessels in these island areas is sustainable.

“Further, these remote, pristine waters have essentially been unaffected over the years from operations by U.S. purse seine and longline fisheries,” he said. “What our sustainable fishery does do is generate healthy food, jobs, businesses and revenue for U.S. interests."

Hallman informed DOI that fishing access for U.S. purse seine vessels to the waters of Pacific island countries in the south Pacific is organized pursuant to a multilateral Treaty - referring to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.

“To close U.S. waters in the same region without scientific justification undermines the continued viability of this Treaty, which provides access to 14 Pacific Island countries and a Pacific Island Territory (of New Zealand), and which has for almost 40 years now been considered by many to be the cornerstone of overall U.S. relations with all these Pacific Island states,” he said.

“Then there is the issue of basic biology - highly migratory species such as tuna cannot be conserved or effectively managed by marine protected areas, marine parks, or marine monuments – a simple scientific fact not disputed by reputable fisheries scientists,” he said. “These species may travel thousands of miles through the waters of many nations and the high seas – that is why highly migratory fish stocks are managed throughout the world by U.N.-sanctioned multilateral conventions covering their extensive migratory routes, and including all fishing nations involved.”

He also explained that one of the tenets of the ATA’s approach to international fisheries management crucial to the survival of the U.S. fleet is that there must be a level playing field for American fishermen on which to compete.

He said the U.S. purse seine fleet is in “fierce competition” with fleets from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan, as well as with others.

“The United States’ unilateral prohibition on fishing healthy stocks by its own fishermen – that is not based on any science - seems to be unique to the United States, and is a terrible example and precedent for other countries to follow,” concluded Hallman, who reiterated ATA's strong support of removing fishing restrictions in all marine monuments.

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