LVPA options to be considered at WPRFMC meeting this week in Territory

fili@samoanews.com

At its 171st Meeting later this month in American Samoa, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, will take action on two fishery issues pertaining to American Samoa, including the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in territorial waters.

The Council will consider seven options for the LVPA to help the US long line fishing fleet based in Pago Pago, according to the agenda information on the Council’s meeting set for Oct. 17-19 at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei.

The federal court in Honolulu reaffirmed in August this year, its Mar. 2017 decision which concluded that the US National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2016 LVPA rule — reduction of the LVPA from 50 to 12 miles — was invalid.

According to the court, NMFS failed to consider whether the proposed rule was consistent with the Deeds of Cession — referring to the 1900 Deed of Cession for Tutuila and Aunu’u; and the 1904 Deed of Cession for Manu’a.

More than a week ago, the NMFS issued a final rule which removes the regulatory exemption (or the 2016 LVPA Rule) that allowed large U.S. vessels over 50 feet in length that hold a federal American Samoa longline limited entry permit to fish within the LVPA to within about 12-17 nautical miles (nm) from shore around Swains Island, Tutuila, and the Manua Islands.

The 2016 LVPA rule was based on a recommendation in 2015 by the Council. The reduced LVPA area gave the longline fleet additional fishing grounds, as they were faced with many challenges - such as declining catch rates of albacore, lower fish prices, and increased fuel and operating costs.

With the 2016 LVPA rule invalidated by the federal court, the Council is again going through the process of seeking public comments and review possible changes to the LVPA — which is reserved for the local 'alia fleet.

Council executive director, Kitty M. Simonds, in a public memorandum last month outlined seven “Action Items” for considerations at the 171st Meeting and among them is the LVPA, for which the Council will consider taking initial action on options to provide an exemption to US-flagged longline vessels over 50-feet in length to fish within the American Samoa LVPA.

“The purpose of this action is to address continued poor economic performance in the American Samoa longline fishery and to eliminate regulations that may be unnecessarily restricting fleet movement and harming fishing efficiency,” the memo explained.

In the early 2000s, there were around 40 small scale longline vessels — 'alia — and 25 larger vessels, both targeting albacore for the local canneries. The LVPA was established in 2002 to separate large vessels and small longline vessels to prevent potential gear conflict and catch competition.

However, since 2006, there have been less than 3 'alia operating, with only one 'alia longline vessel in operation since 2010, according to the memo, which also notes that around 15 large longline vessels continue to operate out of Pago Pago Harbor, “but under severe economic stress”.

Based on the memo, “the Council will consider LVPA options that may serve to improve economic efficiency of large vessels while taking into consideration, among other things, the need to prevent overfishing, impacts on small vessels, and protecting American Samoa cultural fishing practices.”

The seven listed LVPA options for consideration include:

•    Maintain the current status quo;

•    25 nautical miles (nm) LVPA exemption area north of Tutuila and Manu'a but maintain 50 nm southern boundaries and 12 nm around Swains Island;

•    LVPA exemption area seaward of 12 nm around Tutuila, Manua, and Swains Islands - the Council’s preferred 2015 recommendation; and

•    Apply exemption throughout LVPA areas.

The LVPA option and the American Samoa limited entry longline permit program, are the subject of the Council’s public hearing set for Oct. 17 at the Lee Auditorium from 6p.m. to 8p.m.

Written comments in advance of the meeting, should be submitted to: <email: info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov>  or fax (808) 522-8226.  Details of action items are available on the Council’s website <www.wpcouncil. org>

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