Lolo and canneries key to longline fishing fleet’s survival
The Honolulu-based Western Pacific Management Fishery Council has voiced its deep concern with problems faced by the American Samoa longline fishing fleet, saying it would do all possible to help these U.S. flagged vessels.
However, the Council said it is not in a position to provide financial assistance to the American Samoa longline fishery and points to Gov. Lolo M. Moliga as one of the keys to helping the longline fishing fleet survive as well as the canneries.
The Council notes that under section 315 of the Magnuson-Steven Act, in the event of a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, the Secretary of Commerce may, upon the request of Governor(s) of the affected State(s), establish a regional economic transition program to provide immediate disaster relief assistance to the fishermen, charter fishing operators, United States fish processors, and owners of related fishery infrastructure affected by the disaster.
“...the Council will do all within its powers to assist the American Samoa longline fishery, and hopes that the fish processing industry in Pago Pago will also step in to help the fishery through this crisis,” Council Chair, Arnold Palacios said in a media statement, responding to Samoa News inquiries and request for comments to the boat owners plight.
Last week, the Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association announced that owners of the local longline fleet reached a “consensus to tie up” their boats and they further agreed to “post all fishing vessels FOR SALE as the future of this fishery or support for the fishery does not seem imminent.”
The boat owners cited a number of reasons for taking such action which includes a decline in the price of albacore tuna, stiff competition from Chinese vessels, which receive a subsidy from their government, and docking space and rates in Pago Pago harbor.
As of last Friday there was no reply from StarKist Co., headquarters in Pittsburgh as to whether they can offer any assistance to the problems faced by the local longline fleet.
Local longline fleet owners said last week that the problems leading up to this hopeless situation did not happen overnight, and fishermen and boat owners alike have continuously shared their grave concerns with local leaders and members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council including its March 2013 meeting in American Samoa, but such pleas have been outright ignored.
Local businessman Carlos Sanchez and president of Longline Services, Inc., had told Samoa News that “everyone talks about helping the alia fleet” but not the longliner fleet. He and other boat owners have also requested any federal financial help.
In the media statement responding to Samoa News inquiries, the Council said it is “deeply concerned about the problems being faced by the American Samoa longline fishery”, the second largest fishery under the jurisdiction of the Council, which “has spent a great deal of time on management measures to support the operations of the fishery.”
“These measures were requested by American Samoa longline fishermen and include closed areas to protect the alia fleet from competition with conventional large longliners (implemented in 2002) and a limited entry program aimed at maximizing American Samoan participation in the fishery (implemented in 2005),” it says.
The Council also says it has worked with the ASG to support fisheries development in Pago Pago and understands that the dock space continues to be an issue. Therefore, the “Council is supportive of the longline owners request for dock space in Pago and urges the local government to remedy this problem.”
“In anticipation of the need to diversify the longline fishery, the Council has conducted a fresh fish handling workshop and supported renovation of the Fagatogo fish market,” the statement said.
According to the Council, the “desperate times” faced by the American Samoa longline fleet are also being felt by longline fleets dependent on albacore across the South Pacific. It says catches of South Pacific albacore in the region have risen from 40,000-50,000 metric tonnage (mt) in 2000 to between 80,000-90,000 mt at present.
“Some countries have shown spectacular increases in their albacore catch. For example, China’s catch rose from about 2,000 mt in 2000 to over 24,000 mt in 2012. Over the same period, the catch of albacore by the Solomon Islands rose from about 200 mt in 2000 to 9,300 mt in 2011,” the Council said.
They say this increased catch, plus catches from the Atlantic and Indian Ocean affects the global market and contributes an over-supply to markets like the StarKist Samoa cannery with a fall in the price of about $1,000/mt.
“This lower price has been compounded by major price hikes in fuel costs, which have eroded profit margins,” according to the Council, adding that a study by the National Marine Fisheries Service has shown that the profitability of the fishery dropped by 94% between 2001 and 2009.
“It is likely in the interim that this small profit margin has declined further, leading to the fishermen having to stop fishing. Tautai o Samoa is correct that the subsidies paid to Chinese vessels make it impossible for them to compete at current albacore prices,” the Council pointed out.
The Council also said it has been advocating a regional approach to managing South Pacific albacore since 2006, when it convened a workshop on this issue in Honolulu. The participants were countries and territories in the South Pacific that were dependent on developing their longline fisheries for albacore and that did not have a major share of the vast skipjack resource in the equatorial Western Pacific.
Following the Council’s workshop, several Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries including Cook Islands, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau and Tonga implemented the Te Vaka Moana arrangement for the management and development of shared fisheries resources, to ensure their sustainability and leverage greater economic benefits.
The Council continued to work with Te Vaka Moana and FFA in the development of a comprehensive South Pacific albacore management measure.
Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds said, the condition of the South Pacific albacore fishery “was a major concern and action item” at the recent 10th Meeting of the Western & Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC).
“The Council, as part of the US and American Samoa Delegations to the WCPFC, was strongly supportive of a measure proposed by the FFA that would have capped albacore catches within exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and high seas,” she explained.
“This measure was proposed in order to stave off the economic collapse of South Pacific longline fisheries and unfortunately was not adopted by the Commission due to objections from China and Taiwan,” she said.
The Council went on to say that it also hoped to see the American Samoa longline fishery “diversify beyond heavy reliance on cannery albacore, which made the fishery vulnerable to an economic downturn.”
The advent of the Tri-Marine facility in Pago Pago, with the company’s ambitions to increase fresh fish marketing was seen as a positive development towards fishery diversification, with targeting of other stocks such as yellowfin, bigeye, mahimahi and swordfish.
“Sadly, these positive developments have not been enough to combat the market forces which have had such a negative impact on the American Samoa longline fishery,” according to the Council.