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NOAA official requests review of fisheries issues involving Am Samoa

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Honolulu, HAWAII — The US government has called on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for informed deliberation on fisheries issues impacting the US, especially a provision approved at last year’s WCPFC meeting, to help American Samoa’s economy, which depends on the tuna and fishing industry.

Samuel D. Rauch III, the U.S. Federal Commissioner to the WCPFC, made the request in a Nov. 29 letter to WCPFC executive director Feleti P. Teo, who was asked to share the letter with other WCPFC members, ahead of this year’s 15th WCPFC meeting which opened yesterday, (Sunday) and runs through Dec. 14 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.

The meeting will be attended by Marine and Wildlife Department director Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, along with American Samoa Fisheries Task Force chairman and legal counsel to the task force, according to the Governor’s Office.

In his letter, Raunch — who is the NOAA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs — provided information regarding the implementation of Paragraph 29, which deals with American Samoa, of the CMM 2017-01 approved at last year’s meeting and request it be examined this year.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the decision reached during the WCPFC 14th meeting in Manila, includes a new provision for 2018 only, which allows the US to transfer 100 fishing days from its limit in the US EEZ to its limit on the high seas.  This provision is to help American Samoa.

“American Samoa and its economy continue to suffer substantial adverse impacts resulting from the limits on fishing effort by U.S. purse seine fishing vessels on the high seas in the Convention Area,” Raunch wrote.

He expressed appreciation that paragraph 29 “recognized the economic hardship in American Samoa and was adopted to help alleviate those impacts, but it had only modest effects.”

He explained that the US transferred 100 fishing days from its 2018 EEZ limit of 558 fishing days to its high seas limit, resulting in a 2018 high seas limit of 1,370 fishing days. Furthermore, the US EEZ limit was not reached by October 1, 2018, so no further changes were authorized.

He also notes that Paragraph 29 includes the "expectation that the catch taken by United States flagged purse seine vessels and landed in American Samoa" is no less than the volume landed in 2017, increased by 3,500 short tonnes.

According to him, the volume landed in American Samoa in 2017 was 62,291 mt — an increase of 3,175 mt (3,500 st) equals 65,466 mt. The US estimates that as of Nov. 16, 2018, the amount landed in American Samoa for the canneries was 60,107 mt.

Although landing activity for the remainder of the year is difficult to predict, it is expected that the 2018 amount likely will exceed 65,466 mt, he said.

“Although the expectation with respect to deliveries to the American Samoa canneries may be met, American Samoa has continued to bear a heavy burden of conservation action due in part to the limits on high seas fishing days available to the U.S. fleet ever since they were reduced by 760 days in 2013,” the NOAA official pointed out.

And unlike many other members, the United States has routinely had to require its purse seine vessels to cease fishing on the high seas to “avoid exceeding our limits.”

“Reduced access to the high seas for U.S. vessels has contributed to a lack of supply to canneries in American Samoa - one of which has already ceased processing fish, the other of which has occasionally had to shut down,” he wrote.

Raunch said the WCPFC “has no agreed method for determining… whether a given measure has transferred a disproportionate burden of conservation action onto developing states or territories; nonetheless, the burden of the high seas limits on American Samoa has been assessed and documented, and it is significant.”

Raunch shared that a “substantial number” of U.S. purse seine vessels operate out of American Samoa “and are integrally tied to its economy.”

He also pointed out that as currently structured, FAD — fish aggregating devices — set management and effort controls on the U.S. purse seine fleet have substantial adverse impacts on the local vessels, related processing operations, and the overall well-being of the American Samoa economy.

He explained that fishing opportunities on the high seas are critically important for the U.S. fleet and its ability to deliver to the cannery in American Samoa, a small island Participating Territory.

“It is essential that the Commission meet its obligation to consider the needs of this Participating Territory, much as it considers the purse seine fleets and overall needs of Small Island Developing States,” he said, noting that the US requests that these considerations be taken into account when discussing FAD management and reviewing the level of high seas purse seine limits for the United States.

Raunch’s letter, which is also the United States' position, has already been shared with member countries of the WCPFC.