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Increase in fishing days on the high seas sought to support US flagged vessels in Pago

American Tunaboat Association (ATA) is hopeful that a new resolution is reached at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that will support US flagged vessels continuing to operate out of Pago Pago, says ATA executive director Brian Hallman.

The San Diego-based ATA, whose members are owners of US flagged purse seiner vessels, is among the many national, regional, and international organizations being represented at the WCPFC meeting held this week in Manila, Philippines.

Among the many issues being tackled at the meeting, which officially ends today, is the US purse seine fleet fishing days on the high seas.

ASG along with fishing industry officials — including ATA — have voiced their concerns and complaints regarding restrictions placed on fishing on the high seas for the US fleet, leaving foreign vessels — many of them subsidized by their governments — to do as they wish.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Hallman said the “main issue for the vessels” of the ATA “is that the WCPFC rules must allow for a viable US fishery on the high seas. For that, the 2017 measure must be changed.”

For calendar year 2017, WCPFC had already set 1,828 fishing days for the U.S. purse seine vessels to fish 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, according to federal government documents.

Samoa News understands the US government is proposing at the Manila meeting an increase in the fishing days in the ELAPS for the “U.S. and its participating territories” — which is 2,588 fishing days annual limits for each calendar year 2018 to 2020.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, in an Oct. 4th letter to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries, argued that the 1,828 fishing days are “insufficient for our fleet and our territory”. (See Samoa News Oct 12th edition for details).

“We hope for a new WCPFC Resolution which will allow for a viable fishery by US flagged vessels in the western Pacific ocean, especially on the high seas, and that will support US vessels continuing to operate out of Pago Pago,” said Hallman when asked what he hopes to achieve at this week’s WCPFC meeting.

“The ATA view has been — and continues to be — that WCPFC conservation and management measures must be based on science and must provide for a level playing field,” he said Tuesday night via email from Manila. “We are hopeful that the outcome of the meeting in Manila provides for these two principles.”

San Diego-based tuna vessel manager and consultant, William M. Sardinha suggested in an Oct. 4th letter to NOAA to “return to our maximum amount of 3,882 high seas [fishing] days as was permitted in 2009 to 2011.”

“For the survival of American Samoa, the US [flagged] vessels need those 3,882 high seas days,” he wrote to NOAA, which is part of the US delegation to Manila. “And let's be frank, if the tuna industry leaves American Samoa, their future economy will be almost totally dependent on US aid.”

He suggested that the US recommend this number of fishing days at the WCPFC meeting. (See Samoa News Oct. 24th edition for details.)