Despite gov, Council again seeks to reduce size of LVPA in our waters

No surprise: ASG casts only “no” vote against preferred recommendation
fili@samoanews.com

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has approved a preferred recommendation that would, again, seek to reduce the size of the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in American Samoa waters, with Council member Va’amua Henry Sesepasara casting the only “no” vote.

The LVPA reduction option was one of the action items the Council voted on yesterday during the final day of its three-day 171st Meeting at the Gov. Rex Lee Auditorium.

The Council says it recognizes the importance of fishing to American Samoa economy, culture, and food security, and supports all forms of fishing associated with the territory. They also appreciate the public’s participation, interest, and comments on the LVPA action.

However, the “Council continues to emphasize the difficult economic conditions facing the American Samoa longline fishery based on public comments and recent data, and the Council further notes that catch rates of albacore are projected to decline across the South Pacific region unless stronger international management measures are adopted.”

Taking into account the aforementioned issues, the Council identifies as a preferred recommendation the following option that would provide an exemption for large vessels permitted under the American Samoa longline limited entry program: to fish seaward of 12nm around Tutuila, Manu’a and Swains and 2nm around the offshore banks.

The Council directs staff to prepare a regulatory amendment and associated document that analyzes a range of alternatives for final action at its March meeting.

DISCUSSION

Before the vote, Va’amua, who is also the director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, made known that he would vote “no”.

He pointed to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s statement that was read at Tuesday’s Council meeting, in which the governor said he “would rather wait ‘til the dust settles” as the 2016 case has gone to a federal appeal’s court.

In the statement, Lolo gave notice to the Council that he would take the legal battle over the LVPA all the way to the highest court in the land if need be. (See Wednesday’s edition for details).

At yesterday’s discussion, American Samoa Council member Christinna-Lutu Sanchez, said she appreciates the Council’s recognition of the “dire situation” the US flagged longline fleet based in American Samoa is facing.

“I wanted to reiterate the importance of this recommendation” she said and “for the record… this is an effort to address the dilemma the local longline fishery is in, but it’s not a guarantee.”

She explained that there are “no fish hiding” in the LVPA zone. “But we have to try... and continue to try, to figure out a way to help the US fishermen … help us to stay alive,” she said, adding that the Council has to pay attention to the Honolulu federal court’s order, in terms of defining cultural fishing.

“I have heard from our fellow recreational fishermen as well as the small boat owners. And for the record, there has been no harm and no prohibitions against any of the other fishermen,” she said. “We as American Samoans support all fishermen. We have to, because this is a part of who we are in our livelihood...But that does not address the problem of what the local longliners are facing.”

“So again, it is a matter of urgency and hopefully access to these additional waters will help the situation,” she continued.

She said she hopes everything is in place when the Council makes a final decision next March “and if that still doesn’t work, then we have to try something else.”

American Samoa’s other Council member, Taotasi Archie Soliai said the LVPA issue “has been a very touchy and sensitive subject. Unfortunately it’s created, sort of, a rift, between several parties. It’s very sad to say that that’s happened.”

Based on remarks shared Wednesday by a National Marine Fisheries Service official on the Council, Taotasi said there’s nothing prohibiting the Council from continuing action on the LVPA, while the 2016 LVPA rule is on appeal at the federal court.

“From the cannery’s perspective, we don’t take sides on any particular issue,” he said. “However, supply is very important to the cannery. The continuous uninterruption of light meat, which is skipjack, and white meat, which is albacore, must be sustained in order for the cannery operations to continue.”

He thanked the Council for taking the recommendations into consideration “to try to provide some relief to boats that direct-supply to... StarKist.”

(As previously reported by Samoa News, there were seven LVPA options for the Council to decide on during this week’s meeting.)

Council member from Hawai’i, Dean Sensui noted the “importance of this fishery, the importance of the operations of the cannery and that the success of American Samoa’s fishermen, and all fisherman, is based on the success of American Samoa itself - the economy requires it.”

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