Economic Impact Review of purse seine vessels fishing in US EEZ has no time frame
The US National Marine Fisheries Service has completed an economic impact review of fishing restrictions for US purse seine vessels to fish in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (U.S. EEZ) and on the high seas area known in federal regulations as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine, or ELAPS.
However, NMFS regional administrator for the Pacific Islands Regional Office, Michael Tossato told a regional fisheries meeting in Honolulu yesterday that there is no time frame as to when the federal agency would propose rule making that exempts US purse seiner fleet, which off loads its catches at the canneries in American Samoa, from the ELAPS.
The exemption was filed by Tri Marine International in the early part of 2015 - at the time, the US based company had a purse seiner fleet based in Pago Pago as well as its cannery operations at Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., which closed down last December due to various reasons.
In the later part of 2015, NMFS denied Tri Marine’s petition, but acknowledged that some of the issues raised in the petition warrant further examination. NMFS announced its plans to examine, among other things, potential impacts of implementing domestic decisions by the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC) for purse seine fisheries on the economies of the US territories, which are ‘Participating Members’ of the Commission.
Then in May of last year, NMFS said it had yet to complete its economic impact review of the fishing restrictions on the ELAPS in the US territories — especially American Samoa.
There hadn’t been an update to Tri Marine’s petition until yesterday during Day-One of the 170th Meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu, where American Samoa Council member, Christinna Lutu-Sanchez requested the impact review report and asked when NMFS will issue a proposal as requested in Tri Marine’s petition.
Tossato acknowledged NMFS taking on an economic study of the connection of the purse seiner industry and its impact on the territory’s economy.
“The study has been done, and it's out there [but] we have not developed a full proposal for rule making,” as requested by Tri Marine as “we are still considering those options,” Tossato said, adding that the impact study was completed before the new federal administration took office earlier this year in January.
“We are continuing to work through what exact proposal we might put forward in response to what we’ve demonstrated were a solid connection between the decisions on how we’ve implemented measures in particular the vessel-day limit on the high seas and the EEZs on the purse seine fleet, and if there is an economic impact [cannery] processing and the economy of American Samoa.”
He added, “We have a basis for action [but] we just haven’t determined the action that we intend to propose.”
Council Executive Director, Kitty Simonds asked if Tri Marine’s closure of its cannery "a factor in your decision making?”
Tossato replied, “Yes, it is.”
Simonds said, “I don’t think Tri Marine has any intention of returning. Most of their gear, whatever they have in there, it's all gone.” She added that cannery processing is changing around the world, “so it will be very difficult for them to come back.”
Tossato noted that the US implementation of international regulations has been an issue with cannery processing and American Samoa’s economy; and if Tri Marine does not reopen, another cannery - replacing Tri Marine’s cannery - will still be “equally challenged by the decisions we made. So we’re looking at ourselves as much as — ‘how do we address what we’ve done so far’ and how it will benefit the cannery processing industry."
He added, “The key premises is that we should implement our obligations in WCPFC in such a way not to negatively impact [cannery] processing and our small island developing [states] - in our case, our territories.”
Another Council member said, “We visited Tri Marine’s operations in the latter part of last year, and they were doing a run of [canned] tuna for Costco. So they look like they were poised to break in to the canned tuna market. It's unfortunate that they never got to realize the potential.”
The Council meeting is streamed online at <www.wpcouncil.org>