Seafood safety programs recommended for American Samoa
Based on a request from American Samoa representatives, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council has recommended that its staff, among other things, work with the territorial government to protect illegal fish import, which undercuts prices of locally caught fish.
This was among the Council’s several recommendations following the conclusion of its meetings that were held in Honolulu more than a week ago. When contacted for more details about the recommendations dealing with American Samoa, the Council office in Honolulu referred inquiries to Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, who may have raised the issues during an advisory panel meeting.
Matagi-Tofiga is American Samoa’s designated official to the Council, whose membership includes the territory’s recreational fisherman William Sword — one of the four vice chairs — and Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, director of Port Administration.
Among its recommendations, the Council’s staff will assist the American Samoa Government “in developing standards to prevent illegal seafood imports, which currently may be undercutting the price of locally caught fish.”
Additionally, they are to “develop seafood safety and handling training programs and other marketing strategies to promote local seafood markets," which would "benefit the local economy and enhance food security."
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Matagi-Tofiga said this recommendation came from her, Sword and Taimalelagi. “This was a concern from our local fishermen during one of DMWR's workshops,” she explained. “They indicated that seafood from other Pacific islands, mainly Samoa, are being imported in by local stores and restaurants at a lower cost, and they are not buying local catch.”
“Some of the imports do not have proper documentation in terms of permits. Our local fishermen are required to follow federal and local laws that help protect the long-term sustainability of domestic fisheries,” she said.
The DWMR director added that the majority of fish and shellfish caught in local waters are harvested under fishery management plans to ensure healthy fish stocks are maintained and the long-term social-economic benefits to American Samoa are achieved.
“By investing in local fishermen, consumers help to strengthen our local community. They help create a stable marketplace for the fishermen, and help them feel more comfortable in making adjustments to improve the long-term sustainability of the fishery instead of focusing on short term survival,” she said.
“We also recommend for the Council to assist us in terms of seafood handling, safety and marketing strategies to promote our local fish market,” she pointed out, adding “the Council is also funding the renovation of the Fish Market.”
The Council also recommended that its staff assist the territory’s governor in reviewing America Samoa's Deed of Cession to determine applicability to the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, and other federally managed areas.
Samoa News understands this recommendation followed inquiries and concerns raised by the Governor’s Office with federal agencies.
Meanwhile, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) held it’s meeting two weeks ago in Honolulu to discuss several issues. SSC member Dr. Domingo Ochavillo from DWMR reported the National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa has expanded from a single site in Fagatele Bay to include bottom fishing sites and pelagic areas, according to a Council news release.
“There is currently no long term monitoring project in place for these sites. American Samoa is experiencing a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak and has implemented an eradication project,” it says. “The coral cover in American Samoa is among the highest in the Pacific and it has increased since a crown-of-thorns outbreak in 1978, but some sites have tsunami damage and coral disease.”