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Three options on the table to define AS cultural fishing practices

Three options were presented to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council for consideration, regarding the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in territorial waters, according to the “draft options paper” discussed at a meeting of the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), which is one of the Council’s advisory groups.

The draft options paper, as well as the outcome of the SSC meeting were presented to the Council during its three-day 170th Meeting last week in Honolulu. The draft options paper cited two categories of issues to be considered by the Council for initial action.

The options, outlined in the draft paper, follow a Honolulu federal court ruling in favor of American Samoa, saying that the US National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision in 2016 to reduce the LVPA in territorial waters is invalid, and that NMFS’s adoption of the 2016 LVPA rule, which became effective on Feb. 3, 2016 “was arbitrary and capricious.”

American Samoa's cultural fishing practice was cited in the court’s ruling, which was in favor of the plaintiff - the Territory of American Samoa through the ASG - who filed the lawsuit last year against NMFS.


To help the Council define American Samoa cultural fishing practice, the draft options paper presented three initial options - gear based, community based and disposition of catch - for consideration and discussion, but are not meant to preclude the development of any additional options.

For “gear based” the Council has been informed that cultural fishing only involves the use of customary fishing gear comprised of traditional materials. Additionally, cultural fishing can involve any gear type employed including troll, longline, and purse seine methods using modern technologies and materials.

Regarding “Community based” the draft paper notes three issues:

• Cultural fishing can only be conducted by indigenous, community-based American Samoans;

• Cultural fishing can involve persons from outside the American Samoa indigenous community, but only if the vessel is owned by an indigenous American Samoan; and

• Cultural fishing can involve all persons living in American Samoa

Regarding the issue of “Disposition of the catch” the draft paper explained that, cultural fishing can only involve non-commercial fishing where the catch cannot be sold, traded, or bartered.

Furthermore, cultural fishing can include non-commercial and commercial fishing activities including the commercial sale, trade, or barter of the catch, either whole or in part.

The draft paper then outlined three options for initial consideration of the Council: option one - status quo, which is the LVPA regulations prior to the 2016 modification.

Option two -  the 2016 LVPA regulations that allow large longline vessels to fish outside of 12nm from shore within the LVPA; and option three -  a LVPA longline exemption area outside of 25nm.

At the 170th Meeting, the Council may consider identifying either option 2 or 3 as its preferred option, or identify a different option as preferred, the draft paper says.

However, before taking final action, Council staff would evaluate the option with regards to the national standards of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and its other provisions as well as other applicable law, including the Deeds of Cession and impact on cultural fishing.

The Deeds - referred to in the draft paper - are the 1900 Deed of Cession for Tutuila and Aunu’u, and the 1904 Deed of Cession for the Manu’a Islands — with the United States.

In her March 2017 ruling regarding the NMFS decision last year reducing the LVPA from 50 to 12 miles, US District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi said the Deeds preserved the American Samoans’ right to use their “property” to continue their customary practices, although the Deeds do not specifically identify those customary practices.

Kobayashi said the court concluded that the Deeds of Cession require the United States to preserve American Samoan cultural fishing practices.

Meanwhile, the SSC concluded its meeting where it discussed a number of issues including the role of social science under MSA and of previous anthropological work in American Samoa that focused on fishing with respect to values and practices within Fa'a Samoa, which is the socio-political and traditional customary way of life of the Samoan culture.

The SSC recommended the Council consider that cultural fishing can involve any gear type employed, including new technologies and materials; that criteria include residents of American Samoa who participate in cultural fishing; and that cultural fishing can include non-commercial and commercial fishing activities, according to a SSC news release last Friday.

It also says that it was understood that any definition of cultural fishing for American Samoa should be developed in consultation with American Samoan members on the Council and the Office of Samoan Affairs, and that the Council will consult with the American Samoa Government and the American Samoa fishing community in developing the definition for its use in future fisheries management actions taken under the MSA.