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Cultural mediation touted to resolve “misunderstanding” between alias and longliners

Honolulu, Hawai'i — Cultural mediation is being recommended as a way to address differences between the local alia fishers and the US longliners based in American Samoa, as there’s a “misunderstanding” between the two fisheries in the territory, according to Danika Kleiber of the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC).

And during the PIFSC’s survey last month in the territory on “cultural fishing” practices, local alia fishers also suggested infrastructure improvements for this fishery, and they oppose opening up the large vessel prohibited area (LVPA) in territorial waters for the US longline fleet based in American Samoa.

At the recent Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council meeting in Honolulu, Kleiber presented the results of the PIFSC survey that interviewed 14 people — 13 of them through in-person interviews — regarding the definition of cultural fishing (see last Thursday’s story for other details).

According to Kleiber, there was disagreement on whether the LVPA should be opened or not. She explained that local alia want it to remain closed but US longline fishers disagreed. At the discussions during the survey, Kleiber said there was a “recommendation for cultural mediation between these fisheries” — alia and longline.

“… Repeatedly we were told, that there’s misunderstanding between the two fisheries, misrepresentation and there’s a need for these two fisheries to be able to discuss together their shared values and needs,” she points out.

In the Cultural Fishing in American Samoa Report presented at the Council, PIFSC noted that in one of the coordination discussions, the idea of cultural mediation was suggested. And this could include having the matai-led community discussions regarding the tension between alia vessel owners and longline owners.

According to PIFSC, this is similar to recommendations in a report by Severance and Franco in 1989 - ‘Justification and design of limited entry alternatives for the offshore fisheries of American Samoa, and an examination of preferential fishing rights for native people of American Samoa within a limited entry context’.

“Given that the dispute is framed as being about cultural fishing practices,” the PIFSC report said, “utilizing cultural practices to make that determination could be more satisfactory to those involved.”

“Engaging the matai to broker the discussion would also address some of the concerns over the US Federal government ultimately making decisions about fishery resources in the American Samoa Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” according to the report, which echoed long standing concerns of the governor and local leaders over US decisions that impact local fisheries and the economy.

As in many natural resource controversies, the stated dispute — protection of cultural fishing practices — “may mask deep-rooted or identity-based conflicts,” it says citing a quote from the 2014 study by Madden & McQuinn.

PIFSC cited Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s previous remarks to the Council that, “The LVPA issue has far reaching implications for the people of American Samoa particularly on the principle of sovereignty, and the responsibility of the United States to honor its promises inherent in the ratification of the Deeds of Cession by the Congress of the United States.”

And the governor’s remarks are an indication that the “issue of cultural fishing practices sits within a larger governance question of who should make decisions about the American Samoa EEZ, and how those decisions should be made.”

During her presentation, Kleiber noted some of the ideas that were suggested by alia fishers, such as a “protected market for the smaller boats” — the alia — “so they wouldn’t have to compete with the longline vessels.”

According to the PIFSC report, alia fishers were frustrated that US longliners could sell their miscellaneous catch locally and at what, alia fishers, “characterized as a lower price, securing contracts with restaurants, schools, and prisons and competing within the limited local market.”

The PIFSC survey found that there were concerns from alia fishers about the local Saturday fish market at the Fagatogo Market place. (The fish market is now overseen by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, which continues to work closely with alia fishers.)

“Many alia fishers mentioned selling their catch on the side of the road because rent was too high at the local government-run market to make it worthwhile to sell there, although there was hope that new management [of the fish market] would bring needed changes,” the report said.

“From the... longline [fishers] perspective, because they often operate with a thin margin or sometimes at a loss, the ability to sell on the local market can make a difference to their operations,” PIFSC said.

Kleiber’s presentation also outlined infrastructure issues listed by alia fishermen:

•     Dedicated market and/or improved market access — including the banning of longline catch to be sold locally and cheaper rent at the fish market

•     Freezer space to store catch

•     Ice machine

•     Assistance in vessel upgrades