Definition of cultural fishing in Am Samoa still being hashed out
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the three members from American Samoa on the Western Pacific Fishery Regional Fishery Management Council has called for “more thorough research” into the definition of cultural fishing in American Samoa, as it will set a precedence for future federal rule making pertaining to territorial waters.
Taotasi Archie Soliai made the verbal call at last Thursday’s Council meeting in Honolulu, where among the presentations made was the outcome of a survey conducted last month in the territory in which Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara questioned whether the Samoan translator used during the interview had expressed the “real feelings” of local alia fishermen.
“One of the problems that our alia fishermen have is that they lack the education. They’re not as educated as most people. And they cannot express themselves real well,” said Va’amua the other American Samoa member on the Council.
Results of the survey were presented by Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFS) research Danika Kleiber, who was asked by Va’amua if there was a Samoan interpreter when the PIFS interviewed local alia fishermen.
“We did use an interpreter when they asked for it. In most cases, they felt comfortable speaking to us in English,” was Kleiber’s response.
Va’amua explained that one of the fishermen showed up at his office, “sort of complaining [that] he was not sure if the interpreter was expressing exactly what he wanted.” Va’amua said the fisherman wanted him to do the interpretation, but he wasn’t available during the time of the study.
While the Samoan interpreter was not identified by name, it appears the person works for NOAA in the territory. According to Va’amua, the “NOAA employee down there is more educated-English than Samoan.”
The Council’s move on gathering information for the formation of the culture fishing definition followed last year’s Honolulu federal court decision, which invalidated the 2016 final rule by the US National Marine Fisheries Service that reduced the large vessel prohibited area (LVPA) in territorial waters to help the struggling US longline fleet based in American Samoa.
According to the federal court’s decision, the Deeds of Cession required the United States to preserve and protect cultural fishing practices in American Samoa.
One of the Council’s advisory panel, Scientific and Statistical Committee, suggested that “cultural fishing” — which is a “relative new term and it is not well define generally” — could be defined in such a way that it captures Samoan values as they are embodied in the Fa’a Samoa and Samoan practices such as ‘tautua’, or service, especially to chiefs.
It was noted that it could include the Samoan practice of a broad collective sharing of resources within the aiga managed by the matai, and of customary practices of sharing of labor, resources, income, and social and political support to strengthen the aiga, village and the role of the chiefs in perpetuating Fa’a Samoa.
During the cultural fishing presentation, Kleiber said “this is just the beginning of this work”, adding that they’ve yet to interview US based longline captains and crew as well as local leaders. Additionally, it’s also “important to go to the other islands” as results of the survey focused on Tutuila only.
The study, in which 14 people from the local American Samoa alia and US longline fisheries participated, was carried out from Feb. 6- 8. While 13 people were interviewed in person, the last interviewed was conducted via phone from Honolulu.
PIFS planned to continue in-person interview on Feb. 9 and had meetings set up the following week with the Office of Samoan Affairs and other organizations to focus on other elements of the discussion, especially the views of government and cultural experts, as well as people receiving the fish provided by the newer fisheries.
However, Kleiber said they were called back to Honolulu due to the approaching Tropical Storm Gita on Feb. 9th. “While we reached out to other contacts, the aftermath of the storm caused many people to redirect their priorities,” according to the cultural fishing report, which notes that the study was to examine the alia and mono-hull longline fisheries with respect to their cultural fishing practices.
Kleiber did not clearly state at the meeting whether the team is returning to the territory for more research, saying that she would defer the issue — which was raised by Taotasi — to her superiors.
“I think it will be very irresponsible to not continue the research when it comes to the cultural fishing aspect of the work you are trying to do, because it will do an injustice for the people and for the community that this work is geared towards,” Taotasi informed Kleiber during the discussion portion of the report.
“And it behooves all parties to make sure that the process is continued, the process is done so that there is no injustice to the communities that are being served,” he said and noted that a “broader base” audience needs to be interviewed” meaning more outreach to be done, and not just on Tutuila but the neighboring islands.
“I would highly encourage that, through your office and even through the council, to provide what ever it takes to further that work,” he said, because the definition of “cultural fishing will set the precedence moving forward.”
Taotasi commended Kleiber on this “very bold task” the PFIS had taken on, and to have it done in a very short period of time, but “I strongly urge for more thorough research.”
Another Council member noted that there’s also a recreational fishing community in the territory and, they are boat-based Samoans, who fish within the zones and give away more fish than they keep. PFIS was encouraged to include this group in the research.
Kleiber responded that some of the alia fishers who participated in the interview, are recreational fishers as well. However, she said, “We weren’t able to talk to the head of that association” during the visit and agreed to also include them in the study.
Another American Samoa member on the Council, Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, noted that 10 of the people interviewed for the study were alia fishers, and she asked if they gave similar responses to amending the LVPA.
“Yes I would say so. It was pretty clear agreement amongst the alia fishers about their preference on the LVPA,” said Kleiber, adding that while the US longliners were “very clear about opening the LVPA to longline fishery, the alia fishers pretty much agreed, that they wanted the LVPA to remain at 50 miles.”
The PFIS report is broken down in several sections including “identity”, and Lutu-Sanchez sought further information on the people’s perception of who is considered “indigenous” when it comes to alia and longline fisheries.
“I think there’s different ways in which people perceived the fisheries,” according to Kleiber, who also says that there’s a different perception by many people in that the alia fisheries was local, and “that it was indigenous American Samoan participating in it, whereas Alia fishers talked about the longline fishers in different terms. When they were talking about people participating, they mostly focused on longline owners.”
“And the longline owners also talked to us about what they think is a misperception and efforts they had taken to educate people. They thought they’d being confused with the foreign longline fleet and the purse seiner [fleet] coming in, therefore people didn’t understand that these (US longline based in the territory) were owned by local people,” she said.
Lutu-Sanchez responded that she hopes there’s a chance to ask more people because the “results weigh a little bit more heavily on one side.”
She also pointed out, “How misinformation is exaggerated in a community, then people have perceptions based” on information that is not true and that’s “unfortunate”. However, she believes that “it’s useful to understand how people actually feel, because otherwise you won’t know where the confusion is at.”
“It is important that, we work together as a community — both federal and local — to make sure that accurate data and facts on who the fishermen are, who’s participating in the different fisheries, what are they doing — they’re producing food for the community, [and] that they’re helping the economy,” Lutu-Sanchez said.
She stated several times during the three-day Council meeting that the US longline fleet based in American Samoa is owned by American Samoans.