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Scientists weigh in on fisheries issues

Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) concluded its three-day meeting Thursday in Lihue, Kauai, with a suite of recommendations on managing fisheries in Hawai'i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands Areas. The Council will consider the recommendations from the SSC and its other advisory bodies at its 171st meeting to be held Oct. 17-19 in Utulei, American Samoa.

The SSC made recommendations on the American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) as well as other issues. The SSC considered options to allow US-flag longline vessels over 50 feet in length to fish within portions of the LVPA.

The scientists noted that an LVPA exemption would reduce regulatory barriers that may be unnecessarily impeding fishing efficiency while still separating large and small vessels to reduce potential for gear conflicts and catch competition.

Other factors to consider are impacts on local markets from competition, preventing damaging gear interactions with shallow water banks and the potential for increased protected species interactions when closer to the shore.

With regards to cultural fishing, the SSC noted its previous recommendation that focused on how landed catch is distributed and used for cultural reasons related to an individual's service to the aiga (family) and matai (chiefly) systems in support of Fa'a Samoa (Samoan way of life).

The SSC recommended that the Council consider alternatives that address the large vessel economic situation while also preventing gear conflicts and supporting preservation of cultural fishing opportunities. It also recommended adjustments to the logbook and creel survey designs to allow for the collection of more information, such as sold and unsold proportions of the catch.

The SSC also recommended that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) socioeconomics program consider conducting surveys of American Samoa residents on the issue of cultural fishing as well as documenting fish flow from small and large vessels.

American Samoa Longline Permits modifications: The SSC had no objections to the proposed amendments to the permit program and recognized positive aspects of the proposed modifications. The amendments would eliminate elements of the permit program that may be preventing new entry in the fishery as well as reducing the regulatory burden on small vessel participants.

Offshore Aquaculture: The SSC considered action to establish a federal management program to develop a sustainable aquaculture industry in the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters around American Samoa, Hawai'i, Guam, CNMI and the Pacific Remote Island Areas. The program would provide a framework for the Council and NMFS to review and authorize where, how and how much aquaculture is developed and to regulate and manage aquaculture activities in the EEZ.

The SSC recommends that the program include the following:

  • Mandatory permits for aquaculture operations, with consideration given towards allowing transferability and potential bundling of siting, operations, and dealer permits.
  • Aquaculture permits possess a use it or lose it provision.
  • Aquaculture permits cover a designated time period of at least 5-years and be renewable.
  • No specific restriction imposed on allowable aquaculture systems but that the chosen systems are thoroughly documented in the permits to address breakage and navigational hazard concerns.
  • Aquaculture zoning and monitoring be established with careful attention towards minimizing fishery conflicts and negative environmental impacts especially in habitat areas of particular concern.
  • The culture of species listed in the Fishery Ecosystem Plans for the Western Pacific Region or that naturally occur in the area, while noting that some existing aquaculture operations of exotic species are quite successful and safe, such that this species constraint might be revisited in the future.
  • Aquaculture operations maintain thorough records of production, escapes, recaptures, protected species interactions, safety, gear conflicts, gear failure, disease, brood stock, and water quality monitoring.
  • Aquaculture operations exist under measures that can be framework and an Aquaculture Advisory Panel be established.

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