Public comments sought for 2017 limit on US fishing days

ATA says it will not comment as US nat. fisheries “has no flexibility” on its proposed rule
fili@samoanews.com

The U.S National Marine Fisheries Service “has no flexibility” on its proposed rule regarding fishing days limitation on high seas and in US EEZ, because NMFS is legally bound by a Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) measure, according to Brian Hallman, executive director of the American Tunaboat Association (ATA).

NMFS announced on Sept. 20th that the federal agency is seeking public comments — which closes next Thursday, Oct. 5th — to establish a limit for calendar year 2017 on fishing efforts by U.S. purse seine vessels 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.

The proposed rule, issued under authority of the WCPFC Implementation Act, sets the limit at 1,828 fishing days, according to NMFS, which also says that the applicable limit for the U.S. EEZ is 558 fishing days per year, while the high seas is 1,270 fishing days per year, resulting in a combined limit of 1,828 fishing days in calendar year 2017.

This ELAPS limit for 2017 - 1,828 fishing days - is identical to the limits established for 2014, 2015, and 2016, the federal agency said.

Responding to Samoa News queries, Hallman said that the San Diego-based ATA does not plan to comment on the proposed regulation, “because the NMFS rule for 1,828 fishing days comes from the legally binding WCPFC measure, which cannot be changed for 2017, so NMFS has no flexibility.”

“Also, because of the discriminatory WCPFC rule that no FAD (fish aggregating device) sets can be made on the high seas during 2017 by some flag vessels, including U.S. vessels, US fishing on the high seas has been greatly reduced during 2017 compared to previous years,” said Hallman, whose group represents a large number of US owned vessels.

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

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has called on the federal government to re-open fishing on high seas without restrictions, saying restrictions have impacted the fishing and cannery industries, thereby affecting the territory’s economy.

According to NMFS, the likelihood of the proposed fishing-day limit being reached in 2017 is substantial — roughly 80%.

However, current fishing patterns for 2017 as of June 2017 suggest that the rate of fishing in the ELAPS in 2017 — 220 days — is much lower than the historical average with average fishing days per vessel at 6.5 fishing days from January- June 2017.

Assuming fishing conditions in the latter half of the year mimic the first half of 2017, NMFS believes it is unlikely the ELAPS limit will be reached in 2017.

The highest rate observed to date in 2017 has been 8.5 fishing days/calendar days, and if the highest rate in 2017 were to occur through end of 2017, the ELAPS limit is expected to be reached by December 22, 2017.

Other factors that could influence the likelihood of the proposed limit being reached are the status of vessels with respect to whether they have fishery endorsements and are allowed to fish in the U.S. EEZ, El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions, and fishing day opportunities through the South Pacific Tuna Treaty and fishing day opportunities in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

NMFS notes that the costs associated with a closure of the ELAPS would depend greatly on the length of the closure and whether the EEZs of other nations, particularly the typically most favored fishing grounds, the EEZs of the member nations of the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA), or the Eastern Pacific were available for fishing.

NMFS conducted a study on the economic impacts of the 2015 ELAPS closure, which lasted from June 15- December 31, 2015, and found that the 2015 ELAPS closure had an adverse impact on profitability across the combined sectors of vessels, canneries, and vessel support facilities in American Samoa.

Full details of the proposed rule, and how to submit comments are available through the federal portal <www.regulations.gov>

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