Report: 2015 revenues at an all time high for the local longline fishery

fili@samoanews.com

While revenues for commercial landing of tuna species in American Samoa were down in 2015, revenues were at an all time high for the longline fishery, according to the 2015 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) Report for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific Region released this month by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Council’s executive director Kitty M. Simonds says the report represents a major advance in the monitoring and evaluation of the pelagic fisheries in the region.

"Besides the usual complement of fishery modules found in previous reports, the 2015 report has in-depth chapters on protected species, stock assessment summaries, socio-economics and human dimensions of pelagic fisheries, climate and oceanic indicators, essential fish habitat and marine planning,” she said in a news release earlier this month.

Not included in the SAFE report is data on purse seine and non-U.S. vessel landings. According to the more than 250 page report, the largest fishery in American Samoa is the American Samoa longline fishery and a majority of these vessels are greater than 50 ft, and are required to fish beyond 50 nautical miles (nm) from shore, and sell the majority of their catch, primarily albacore, to the canneries.

(Samoa News notes that since Feb. 3 of last year, these vessels are now allowed to fish beyond 20 m, following a US National Marines Fishery Service decision, which deals with the reduction of the Large Vessel Prohibited Area, or LVPA, in waters of American Samoa from 50 to 20 miles. And ASG has challenged the decision at the Honolulu federal court.)

In 2015, there were 18 active longline vessels, with 10 vessels greater than 70-ft and six vessels between 50 and 70-ft, according to the report, which notes that smaller longline vessels — locally built, twin-hulled vessels about 30-ft long, powered by 40HP gasoline outboard engines — can fish within 50 nm from shore, “but due to the low participation, these data are confidential and are reported only as combined with the large vessel fishery.”

Troll and hand-line fishing is the next largest fishery with 11 boats that landed pelagic species in 2015, the report points out, adding that recreational fisheries in American Samoa are rare — although popular in Hawai’i.

LANDINGS

Total landings in American Samoa in 2015 were estimated at 4.8 million lbs, with tuna species — albacore, yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye — comprising 95% of all landings. Of total landings, longline fishery accounted for more than 99.5%, while the troll fishery accounted for 0.3% of landings.  Additionally, albacore made up 77% of the tuna species, while wahoo, swordfish and blue marlin made up most of the non-tuna species landings.

It also says that 2015 saw the lowest total landings in 15 years.

CATCH RATE

Longline catch rates increased moderately in 2015 boosted by an increase in the catch rate for tuna. Overall, catch rates in this fishery have been steady for over the past 10 years.

In contrast, trolling catch rates have shown substantial fluctuation over the years and have been decreasing since 2012, with 2015 catch rates one-third the 2012 peak. The 2015 catch rates were the lowest recorded for the 34-year time series.

REVENUE

“While revenues were down in 2015, revenues per trip were at an all-time high for the longline fishery, at $62,573 per trip,” the report says. “Although this is likely a reflection of the increase in larger vessel participation and increased overall average days per trip.”

“Revenue per trolling trip has fluctuated substantially each year due to changes in catch rates, fish prices, and trip costs,” it says.

The report also says that commercial landings of tuna species continue to decline, with the 2015 landings, which is the lowest in the past ten years. It says tunas accounted for 96% of total pelagic landings with an estimated adjusted revenue of $4.7 million in 2015, and an accumulated average $1.10 price per pound.

Furthermore, albacore accounted for 79% of the revenue, with an estimated price of $1.28 per pound.

RECREATIONAL FISHING

This fishery underwent a renaissance in American Samoa with the establishment of the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association (PPGFA), founded in 2003 by a group of recreational anglers, the report says, noting that the motivation to form the PPGFA was the desire to host regular fishing competitions.

It says that there are about 15 recreational fishing vessels ranging from 10-ft single engine dinghies to 35-ft twin diesel engine cabin cruisers.

The PPGFA has annually hosted international tournaments over the past 15 years, including the Steinlager I'a Lapo'a Game Fishing Tournament — a qualifying event for the International Game Fish Association’s Offshore World Championship in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the report explained.

There was no full-time regular charter fishery similar to those in Hawai’i or Guam, reported in American Samoa. However, Pago Pago Marine Charters now operates a full-time charter fishery.

“Estimates of the volume and value of recreational fishing in American Samoa are not precise,” the report notes. “While, boat-based recreational catches were as high as 46,462 lbs and averaged about 14,000 lbs in the last ten years, the 2015 recreational catch in 2015 was 663 lbs.

Specific details of the SAFE Report can be found on www.wpcouncil.org

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