Report to WestPac Fisheries addresses 'super alia' and fish market

"Local government has never provided the support to alia fishermen needed with the Fish Market"
fili@samoanews.com

The “super alia” is now priced by the American Samoa Government at an estimated $400,000 per vessel, which is double the initial estimated cost of $200,000

This is according to the American Samoa Communities and Issues Report, submitted to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

The report, prepared by Council staff, also states that the fish market at the Fagatogo Marketplace remains unused by local fishermen, who prefer to sell their daily catch on the side of the road.

The 7-page report, covering fishery and fishery related issues in American Samoa, was publicly released ahead of its 170th Meeting last week.

SUPER ALIA

The working alia development, which is also known as the ‘super alia’ project, was initiated by the Council a few years ago and was done in partnership with ASG. The super alia can go further out to sea to fish and stay out longer, compared to the current local alia fleet.

As part of its partnership with ASG, the Council contracted a Fisheries Development Officer who created the framework for a new alia vessel design, a fishermen lending scheme and a training program, according to the report, which didn’t elaborate on the type of lending scheme identified.

The project was handed over to ASG, and since taking over the project, the lending scheme has been replaced by the plan to have prospective owners apply for a loan through the US Department of Treasury’s Small State Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), the report states. (Administered by the local Commerce Department, the local SSBCI program is called the American Samoa Venture Fund.)

“Once originally priced at close to $200,000, the government is now estimating the cost of the new design of the vessel between $400,000-$500,000 - a cost most fishermen feel is a deal-breaker,” the report states, adding that during a local meeting of the Council’s American Samoa Advisory Panel, held in April this year states, a Department of Commerce employee informed panel members that the cost of the vessel would be over $400,000.

The report, which didn’t identify the DOC employee by name, says the first build of the vessel would be done by ASG and used for training. The employee indicated that the prospective buyers could select the features they want when they applied for an SSBCI loan, reducing costs.

However, the report noted that ASG was in the process of identifying a funding source for that initial build, and planning to execute a Request for Proposal for the contract. No SSBCI awards for working alia purchases had not been issued as of yet.

BOTTOMFISH EXPORT

The report revealed that ASG is now planning to use the working alia project as part of its larger vision of having a bottomfish export industry for alia fishermen. 

It notes that the fish market at the Fagatogo Market place was funded by the Council back in 2011 and has been managed by DOC.  Since construction, the Council has renovated the market to make it more sales-friendly, with glass display cases, a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, a preparation area with stainless steel counters and a washdown sink, and a commercial grade table saw to cut large fish.

According to the report, the market was provided by the Council in response to requests from both the fishermen and local government for a contained area with air conditioning, to be used as a fishermen’s cooperative – a hub for the local alia fishermen association to sell their catch and divide expenses amongst its members to cover operational costs.

The concept was to model the cooperative after the one in Guam, located at the Hagatna Marina – a highly successful and popular place where the people in Guam purchase fish.

“This original plan however, never came to fruition, and the government decided instead to lease the [fish] market space out to a private owner,” says the report, which also noted that two different alia fishermen have operated the fish market with little or no success, and neither one managed the market for even a year before deciding to discontinue their agreement with the government.

The staff report reiterated what it said in the past: the main reason for them not continuing to operate the market is the high operating costs required by DOC, which is the reason for ending their management of the Market.

As previously reported by Samoa News, it was early last year, that locally based Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association was awarded the bid to manage the fish market, but pulled out due to, among other things, the nearly $2,000 in monthly rental and other fees.

DOC staff has been managing the fish market where any fisherman is allowed to sell his catch, but is required to first pay an upfront fee of $0.25 per pound for bottomfish they bring into the market to sell, and $0.15 per pound for pelagic fish.

“This utilization of the fish market has been unsuccessful as most fishermen opt to instead sell on the roadside at makeshift stands, or sell directly to consumers and businesses,” according to the report, which echoed what fishermen have told Samoa News since late last year.

The report states that when invited to Advisory Panel meetings, ASG representatives have cited poor location of the market and a desire to have a new, open air market as reasons the market has not been successful.

“Unfortunately, the local government has never provided the support to alia fishermen needed with the Fish Market – advertising, reduced costs for operating the market, or even using the market space for promotional events.”

At the 169th Meeting held this past March in Honolulu, the Council made a recommendation that ASG not pursue redundant fisheries development projects, such as the government’s stated plans of constructing a second, open-air fish market in the lot adjacent to where the existing Fish Market is located.

Currently, DOC is planning to utilize the space where the fish market is for preparation of bottomfish caught by alia and hopefully working alia vessel owners for export to US markets – most likely in Hawai’i,” the report revealed.

There has been expressed concern at Advisory Panel meetings that the banks around American Samoa cannot support a bottomfish export industry, notes the report, which points out that in 2015, the Oscar Sette vessel conducted a bottomfish assessment of the entire Samoan archipelago.

During a presentation of their findings at the National Marine Sanctuary’s Ocean Center, Dr. Joseph O’Malley told attending ASG representatives that the banks could not sustain a bottomfish export industry, despite the current good health of the stock.

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