WestPac Fishery Management Council votes to modify LVPA for one year
Local longline boat owner and member of the local longline fishing boat association, Carlos Sanchez says the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council made the “correct decision” when the Council voted last week to modify the large vessel prohibited area (LVPA) for a period of one year in order to provide relief to the longline fishing fleet in American Samoa.
The Council’s vote came during its four-day meeting held last week in Guam. The Honolulu-based federally established group said it was aware of the economic hardships being faced by the local longline fishing fleet.
And to “provide temporary relief”, the Council voted to modify the LVPA for one year, reducing the northern boundary of the LVPA around Tutuila, Manu’a, and Rose Atoll from 50 nautical miles to 25 nautical miles and around Swains to 12 nautical miles, according to a Council statement.
“I believe that what the Council did was a result of knowledge and experience in the management of fisheries and fishery issues. It was the correct decision,” Sanchez told Samoa News when asked for a reaction to the Council’s vote.
Additionally, he said the decision was “based on facts, data, good management and common sense."
“We, the boat owners, appreciate very much the efforts made by the Council and its staff on the decision they made. We thank them and we are excited about the new beginning for us,” Sanchez said.
Last month, the Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association made a written request to the Council for a “temporary moratorium” or waivers from regulations governing the 50-mile closure of ocean areas around the islands of American Samoa. The letter came after the verbal request last month to the Council’s staff, who were in Pago Pago for meetings.
The association made a similar request late last year to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who responded in a letter last month telling boat owners that “we cannot accommodate” the request at this time, pointing out that the “no-access zone” is to ensure that “local Samoans that still practice the art of fishing handed down from our forefathers will have access to sufficient supplies of fish for their needs.”
Sanchez told Samoa News this week that territorial waters are full of resources for people who want to explore and develop them and it doesn't make sense that the 50-mile limit is gifted to three or four alias and six or seven recreational fishing boats.
“We expect that with this [Council] decision, the next time the Council meets, they will take into consideration again the data that we will be gathering from this trial [period],” he said.
“To be fair, I hope that they will require the same data from the alias and recreational fishermen to fairly provide management policies. These ocean resources are as much for alia fishermen and recreational fishermen as for the larger longliner fishermen.”
He went on to point out that a lot has been said about protecting the fish for future generations but for longliners, “We target highly migratory species such as the various types of tuna, wahoo, mahimahi, etc., all of which are migratory. If they are not caught here, they will be caught by the boats in other countries as our boundaries are with other countries.
“It is also very difficult for us when we are following the fish from north to south or vice-versa to find them again after they pass through the prohibited boundaries — as we don't know where they are going to emerge from that large area,” he explained.
One of the issues that has surfaced over the years is the possible conflict of longliners with other vessels, such as alia and recreational vessels.
Sanchez says there is a “very big difference” between them due to the fact that the commercial longline fleet fish everyday.
“The long lines are set in the morning and then they rest all day long to pick up the lines at night,” he explained. “I believe that we can co-exist with the recreational fishermen and the smaller boats or alias.”
“If there are tournaments, we can easily agree to not be around during the tournaments. This can be done, but it is not right to ban this zone for the entire year just waiting for two or three tournaments, or to prohibit this area, allowing no one to use it,” he said.
"We hope that by then the alias have grown to take advantage of this area and fish it; and the recreational fishermen — instead of one or two tournaments, they can have six.”
“This would then justify keeping the zones closed to larger commercial vessels. I think the Council made the right decision. One of their main responsibilities is to manage and protect the ocean resources based on the needs and facts. We congratulate them for doing an excellent job and being aware of the reality of the circumstances,” Sanchez said.
The Council didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional comments regarding their decision to modify the LVPA around territorial waters.
Governor Lolo formed a government committee to identify areas to help the local longliner fishing fleet last year. Committee members are Keniseli Lafaele, Director of the Department of Commerce (DOC), Port Administration director Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele; Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi Tofiga, and the Governor’s Legal Counsel Steven Watson.
(Based on the latest information from Lafaele, then Territorial Energy Office acting director Timothy Jones is no longer a member of the committee).
In the interview with Samoa News about the Council’s decision, Sanchez commented that the ASG committee a few weeks before the arrival of the council staff here, denied Tautai’s request for help or support, and put it “on the back burner, except for issues of port dockage and taxes on miscellaneous fish.”
He said, “The Council's resolution is the difference between knowledge and experience and the total lack of experience and knowledge of the group that the Governor put together.”
Sanchez further noted, “There are hundreds of square miles in that zone to be given to such a small group. I know that the recreational fishermen claim this zone waters like theirs. They fish on weekends mostly and holidays. They have 2 or 3 tournaments a year, and there is no data of how much such recreational activities brings in terms of economic benefit to the territory. They're supposed to give data to the council, but this has not been done. The same happens with the alias. Every time we go to a meeting, there is only one fisherman long lining, according to what is said in the meetings. The other alias bottom fish.
“Why would we deny these resources to a job-producing fleet?” he told Samoa News. “We have fishermen/ crew members, we subcontract electricians, motor rewinders, repair technicians, food suppliers, etc. Our fishermen also spend their salaries here on island.
“Yet, hundreds of miles are taken from the fleet with the concept of taking it away to save for the alias and recreational fishermen. This was supposed to be for the alia fleet to grow, and it didn't happen,” Sanchez stated.