LVPA Update: ASG rep refuses to give details of its “no” vote
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Government voted “no” on all four recommendations relating to the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA), at last Friday’s final day of the three-day 172nd meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu.
Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, the ASG representative on the Council, made known ASG’s vote way in advance of the discussion and vote that was postponed from Thursday, following Va’amua’s request to allow him time to talk to his colleagues back home on the recommendations.
According to the meeting’s agenda, the Council was to take action on the LVPA — after conducting public hearings late last year and presentations of recommendations from the advisory panels of the Council made last week. The move is to reduce the size of the LVPA to help the struggling US flagged longline fleet based in American Samoa.
But instead, the Council on Friday delayed final action on an amendment to modify the LVPA, until its 173rd Meeting on Maui, Hawai’i, from June 11-14.
When the LVPA recommendations were taken up, Va’amua explained that he had spoken the night before with the “legal team” in American Samoa and “we had a good conversation about it.”
To sum it up, “there are common grounds” for agreement of both sides; however, “we cannot agree” to the recommendations, he said, adding that the advice given to him was that “because there is ongoing litigation” on the LVPA, ASG is not supportive of all the recommendations.
“To be sure, the ‘no vote’ is based on, [that] there is on-going litigation?” Council chairman Edwin Ebisui Jr., asked for clarification, and Va’amua responded that “there are some common grounds” on the recommendations but “we did not agree with all” of them.
A request was made to read the recommendations in their entirety, followed by discussion and then carry out the vote.
“I’ve been advised by the legal counsel [of] the government of American Samoa, the vote will be no,” on all the recommendations, said Va’amua, adding that the Council can move forward with its discussion and vote but reiterated his vote is “no”.
Ebisui said he didn’t want to put Va’amua “on the hot spot” but there needs to be “some kind of resolution.”
“I think it’s critical, very important, that we understand where the American Samoa Government’s coming from [to see] if we can address those concerns,” Ebisui said, noting that it’s wonderful there are areas of agreement, but “work on what we don’t have agreement on.”
Va’amua responded that, “I’ve being advised, that [it’s] safe for us to say ‘no’ on all the issues, because there’s litigation, that’s ongoing now. And they didn’t want me to say anything that would (put) the American Samoa government situation (at a) disadvantage in the litigation.”
Ebisui responded, “I think the American Samoa government's contributions to the definition of cultural fishing practices is a big piece of the puzzle”, and it makes it “very difficult if the government just takes the position that ‘we’re just going to say no and we’re not going to tell you why’.”
“That’s what I’m trying to address. I’m trying to do it diplomatically. But I also understand, and I don’t want to put you in a hot-spot Henry. To the extent you can, it’s greatly appreciated, if you could articulate the reasons for the ‘no vote’,” Ebisui pointed out.
However, Va’amua continued to say that ‘I’m being advised by our legal counsel to say ‘no’.
US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of General Counsel for the Pacific Islands chief section, Fred Tucher, reminded Council members of the “litigation”, which he says “it’s a record review of a prior decision” on the LVPA exemption 2016 final rule.
“That record is completed, it is closed and that record” — along with the Honolulu federal court’s decision on the 2016 final rule — is before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Tucher said and explained that the Council’s current action, is to address the lower court’s decision, and to take into account the preservation and protection of cultural fishing.
“I just wanted to make sure that everybody understands when referred to litigation, this issue that you’re acting on, is a related rule but it’s not the rule that’s in litigation,” he said.
Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, another American Samoa member on the Council, asked if perhaps the legal counsel — as referred to by Va’amua — offered alternate language that’s agreeable regarding the LVPA amendment.
While there was no suggested language offered by the legal counsel, Va’amua reiterated that there are “common areas for agreement” in the recommendations but — again — not all of them.
One of Hawai’i’s members on the Council, Dean Sensui notes that “as an outside observer, I can see that this is a very large shared resource, and considering the economic situation… in American Samoa, it would be kind of nice if all parties come to a reasonable agreement… for something that would be workable for everyone that would really help the people of [American] Samoa.”
Another American Samoa member on the Council, Taotasi Archie Soliai, inquired of Va’amua if there are certain parts of the text of the recommendations that can be removed that would be acceptable.
Va’amua responded that “there’s not been any written statement [from ASG] to say that, ‘this is what we want’,” and repeated again that there is “common interest to both parties” in part of the recommendations, except that the entirety of the proposed recommendations are “not acceptable.”
The Council then moved on to read each recommendation, followed by discussion and vote — where Va’amua’s cast a “no vote” on all of them.
Samoa News will report in tomorrow’s edition, on more comments from Council members — including American Samoa’s members — during the discussion of the four recommendations:
• Council reiterates its previous recommendation that it supports all fishing activities that occur in American Samoa waters and within US exclusive economic zone. The Council recognizes that the longline fishery, which targets albacore for landing at the local cannery, has experienced poor economic conditions for over a decade and dozens of vessels have left the fishery. Remaining longline vessels continue to face declining catch rates and increasing operating costs, and available information indicates that the current LVPA restricts fishing operations and adversely affects efficiency.
• Council also recognizes that alia fishermen who troll for yellowfin, skipjack and wahoo perceive that their fishing would be harmed if LVPA regulations are modified; however, available information while the 2016 LVPA Rule was in effect shows no adverse impacts to the catch rates of pelagic troll vessels, including alias.
• LVPA issue has resulted in disagreement within the American Samoa fishing community and is the subject of litigation between the governments of American Samoa and the United States. The Council notes that last year's court decision requires the consideration and protection of American Samoa cultural fishing. To this end, the Council requested that Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) conduct research on American Samoa cultural fishing to facilitate understanding and potential impacts under a changed LVPA. The Council notes that all fishing in American Samoa has cultural importance, whether longline, alia vessels, other small vessels, because catch from these vessels is flowing into the community for cultural purposes.
• On July 6 and Nov. 11 of last year, the Council requested consultation with the Government of American Samoa on preserving and protecting cultural fishing under a new LVPA Rule. Consistent with this request, the Council requests that the American Samoa Government consider all relevant information, including the PIFSC research paper, available data on fishing impacts under the 2016 LVPA Rule, and input from longline and alia fishermen and other stakeholders, and identify an option consistent with the Magnuson Stevens Act that might resolve this disagreement. The Council requests that the American Samoa Government forward its recommendation to the Council by May 30, 2018 or sooner for action at its June meeting.