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Gov: “…insufficient for our fleet and our territory” NOAA’s fishing days proposed rule

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has called it, “insufficient for our fleet and our territory”, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposed rule of 1828 fishing days for calendar year 2017 for U.S. purse seine vessels in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and on the high seas — the area known in federal regulations as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine, or ELAPS.

“One of our canneries has already closed,” wrote Lolo in an Oct. 4th letter to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regional administrator for Pacific Islands Office in Honolulu. Lolo was referring to Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. that shut down last December.

According to the governor, the territory's remaining cannery — referring to StarKist Samoa — “continues to struggle” and NMFS’ own study shows the detrimental effect the ELAPS closure in 2015 has on the local economy.

“Yet, NOAA still refuses to grant American Samoa all the benefits afforded to it as a WCPFC (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission) participating territory and small island developing — SID — territory,” he argued. “Instead, while NOAA withholds these benefits, our economy declines.”

“Our economy is struggling and NOAA is willfully ignoring a solution that will help our deteriorating tuna industry,” he wrote. “Help our economy by granting us, not money or handouts, but the ability to put our people to work by taking advantage of benefits that are currently being squandered.”

He said it is necessary for NOAA to grant American Samoa relief by crafting a regulation to take advantage of our WCPFC benefits. He reminded NMFS that the local economy depends on tuna and everything is connected to the local tuna industry, even the cost of fuel and electricity that is tied to the purchasing power brought by boats that refuel in Pago Pago.

However, as the cost of fish rises and price of tuna falls, fishing boats are looking for other options, “placing our industry in danger,” he said.

The governor noted that NOAA has already set the precedent of utilizing WCPFC participating territory and SID benefits in the longline fishery by granting Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa big eye quota. This was done in December 2013 and the governor provided details in his letter of that NOAA ruling.

According to the governor, this same logic should be used with regards to the ELAPS days.

And just in case NOAA had “forgotten their own pathway” for utilizing of benefits from being a WCPFC participating territory and SID, Lolo gave the agency a quick run down.

For example, under Article 30 of the WCPFC convention, American Samoa is given special consideration, because it is both a participating territory and SID.

Furthermore, this consideration appears in different measures like the bigeye tuna quota for longline fishery. Another benefit is found in the general rules of Conservation and Management Measure of 2015, wherein “high seas day limits are set without prejudice to the rights of participating territory.”

This means, said Lolo, while the US is limited to 1270 days on the high seas, American Samoa is not. “Unfortunately, NOAA is letting this benefit go to waste,” he argued, and called on the federal agency that it “must” find a way to grant these benefits to American Samoa because NOAA has "a fiduciary responsibility to do so.”

Lolo also reminded NOAA of Tri Marine International’s petition filed in 2015 and supported by ASG, for an exemption from high seas limit any US-flagged purse seine vessel that — pursuant to contract or declaration of intent — delivers or will deliver at least 50 percent of its catch to tuna processing facilities based in American Samoa.

“This petition has languished for two years,” he said and suggested they revisit Tri Marine’s petition. (See Samoa News Oct. 10 edition for details.)

Deadline to submit public comments on the fishing day limitation for 2017 closed on Oct. 5th.