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LVPA rule “was not a dictatorial thing” says local Longline Service official

It was a Council response to a “desperate plea” for relief

Reduction of the Large Vessel Protection Area (LVPA) in territorial waters “was not a dictatorial thing” but a response by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to a  “desperate plea” from the U.S longliner fleet based in American Samoa already faced with many challenges, says Christinna Lutu-Sanchez of Longline Service Inc., and an American Samoa member on the Council.

Lutu-Sanchez’s comment was made during last Thursday morning’s Council meeting. Other American Samoa members on the Council are StarKist Samoa official Taotasi Soliai and Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, who is the territorial representative on the Council.

Last week Monday, U.S District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi issued a decision invaliding the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rule last year that reduces the LVPA from 50 to 12 miles. The NMFS action followed an approved Council recommendation two years ago giving the U.S flagged longliner fleet based in American Samoa additional fishing grounds in territorial waters.

Lutu-Sanchez told the Council session Thursday morning that the court’s decision “is a win for, and, it’s a reminder on the rights of the native people, the indigenous rights.”

However, she reminded Council members that the 2016 LVPA rule “was actually in response to the outcry and plea from the fishermen for some relief. It was not a dictatorial thing. It was actually a desperate plea from the U.S longliner [fleet] operating out of American Samoa.”

Lutu-Sanchez said that even though the LPVA was reduced in 2016, the status of the longline fleet has not improved as “they’ve decreased dramatically. (Data presented at the meeting, shows that the longline fleet is down to an active 17 vessels in 2016.)

“I would honestly say that the boats that are left [in American Samoa], is because of sheer hope and faith that something will happen and because the owners are American Samoans, [and] they don’t have anywhere to go, they live there,” she said.

The Council, during the second day of the its meeting last week Wednesday approved several recommendations, including one that directs Council staff to work with NMFS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) general counsel on reviewing the judge’s decision and to evaluate the next step, which could include requesting the court to stay the decision, pending reconsideration or appeal of the decision. Va’amua “abstained” during the vote. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 23 for details).

Before the three-day meeting officially ended last Thursday afternoon, the Council voted and approved another set of recommendations, including one that “reiterates” the direction provided to Council staff to work with NMFS and NOAA general counsel on reviewing the judge’s decision “and to evaluate next steps, which could include requesting the court to stay the decision pending reconsideration of appeal over the court’s decision and further notes the urgency to provide regulatory relief for the American Samoa longline fleet, because it continues to face dire economic conditions.”

Va’amua, during the discussion of this recommendation, told the meeting, that “once again, as the governor’s representative to the Council and since this is the governor’s motion to the court, I would vote ‘no’ for this recommendation.”

Council member Dean Sensui of Hawai’i Goes Fishing company asked Lutu-Sanchez about the kind of gear conflicts with other fishery operations with the change in the LVPA.

Lutu-Sanchez says gear conflict had “been the worry” and that’s why the LVPA was created in 2002. She noted in a presentation Wednesday on the American Samoa Longline report that “we saw in the report... that there aren’t any gear conflicts and the potential for that to happen is most likely, none.”

She said, “Just from personal experience, it’s a very small fishing community,” and recalled the last Council meeting in which the longliner association had “also taken the next step forward to work with our recreational fishermen, inviting them to please give us information, when they do have their events such as tournaments... so that the larger longliners are aware.”

With such advance information, she said longliners will “stay way out” of the areas used for tournaments “so that we can work together.”

For example, if there is a tournament in area B, longliners don’t go near area B, and would be far away from there. “And [we] even go as far as giving them information,” she said, for example, a longline was in a certain area and they’d didn’t have much luck with catches, but did a little better in another fishing area. “So we’ve shared that information with our recreational fishermen as well.”

Responding to follow up questions from the Council, Lutu-Sanchez said, “We are in support of all of our fisheries. We try to encourage everyone to fish, whether it’s from the dockside, or on the boat, or on the reef. That’s what we encourage and support. Hopefully, everyone will understand that is our feeling.”

After the brief discussion period, the Council voted to approve the recommendation with Va’amua the only “no” vote. The Council meeting was streamed live online.