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Tri Marine urges NMFS to support Am. Samoa tuna operations

Citing its cannery closure in Am Samoa as an example

US based Tri Marine International is urging a federal agency to grant its exemption request — made three years ago and supported by the American Samoa Government — dealing with US purse seiner fleets that deliver their catch to the canneries in the territory, whose economy is dependent on the canning tuna processing industry.

Tri Marine made the call in an Oct. 3rd five-page comment letter from the company’s chairman and CEO, Renato Curto to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), seeking public comments on a proposed rule 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 sets the limit at 1,828 fishing days, according to NMFS, which recalled that the federal agency received in May 2015 a petition from Tri Marine for an exemption from high seas limit any U.S.-flagged purse seine vessel that — pursuant to contract or declaration of intent — delivers or will deliver at least 50 percent of its catch to tuna processing facilities based in American Samoa.

 NMFS denied the petition on Oct. 23, 2015. (Details can be viewed on federal portal

In his letter to NMFS, Curto first pointed out that Tri Marine is the beneficial owner of a large scale cannery in American Samoa, but the plant “was forced to shut down” last December, “due to a number of reasons, including the lack of adequate supply of raw material to meet its needs and those of StarKist” cannery.

Additionally, Tri Marine is associated with a fleet of seven US flagged purse seiners based in the territory. The fleet was composed of as many as 11 vessels, and six of them were entirely US built and had US fisheries endorsements, which was a determining factor in the decision to acquire them, as the company planned to fish inside US waters.

Curto’s letter revealed that since the beginning of last year, one vessel has been sold to another US owner, three were sold to foreign owners, and a fifth vessel was being sold to another foreign buyer.

According to Curto, American Samoa is a Participating Territory under the Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Under the General Rules of CMM-2015 (specially Sec. 7), establishment of any limits on high seas fishing days is “without prejudice” to the rights of Participating Territories (i.e. American Samoa) in the Convention Area (Central and Western Pacific Ocean) seeking to develop their domestic fisheries.

He said the General Rule set forth the principles for limiting high seas fishing days, and under provision of this Rule, the US would be limited to 1,270 days for 2014-2016, except as necessary to protect the rights of American Samoa as a Participating Territory.

“Under the CMM, the US is given the discretion to decide how best to protect the Participating Territory rights of American Samoa,” he argued. “Without question, American Samoa is a Participating Territory whose fishing industry is intended to be nurtured and protected under the CMMs adopted by the WCPFC.”

Curto added that it's Tri Marine’s understanding that NMFS recently presented its economic analysis of possible impacts of the 2015 ELAPS closure to American Samoa and its tuna industry at a meeting of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

That analysis, he said, concluded that the 2015 closure resulted in overall losses to the combined sectors of vessels, canneries, and vessel support companies. According to Curto, the results suggested that the closure had impact on the territory’s economy and there is a connection between US purse seine vessels and the broader American Samoa economy.

“It therefore appears that the best economic information supports the request for an exemption, considering American Samoa’s status as a Participating Territory under the current applicable CMM restrictions on high seas fishing days,” he said.

Samoa News notes that American Samoa has argued in the last three years to lift restrictions on high seas. Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga had cited “prohibition of fishing in the high seas” by the federal government, as one of the major issues that has severely threatened the continued viability of the local tuna industry.

In his letter to NMFS, Curto argued that “there is a lack of clear scientific evidence for restricting fishing in the high seas” and provided data to support such argument including data from a regional government group.

“The only purpose for limiting fishing on high seas is to force US purse seine vessels to purchase licenses to fish in other nations’ waters or to satisfy demands of non-governmental organizations that claim banning high seas fishing will reduce or prevent Illegal, Unlicensed and Unregulated (IUU) fishing,” Curto alleges.

He said the US should continue to oppose these policies as they “are not science-based and unfairly discriminate” against US vessels, which have historical fishing rights on high seas and follow the rules adopted by WCPFC, the regional fishery management organization.

“We urge the agency to grant the exemption requested by the Government of American Samoa and Tri Marine, to the restrictions in the ELAPS for vessels based in American Samoa,” he wrote. 

He went on to note that Tri Marine operates in a highly competitive global market where many competitive factors affect the economics and, ultimately, the success or failure of the enterprise.

“Inevitably, lacking the support we requested, we failed, our cannery was forced to shut down, we were forced to sell some of our vessels and transfer most of the remaining ones” to the Eastern Tropic Pacific Ocean, he said

“We ask that the agency use its inherent discretion to support the tuna operations of American Samoa, including its authority under the CMMs of the WCPFC and the nation’s fiduciary obligation to a dependent territory, by granting the exemption we requested,” he said.

Public comments on the ELAPS fishing days limit for 2017 closed yesterday, Oct. 5th.