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Nat'l Marine Fisheries issues Final Rule benefiting American Samoa Fishery

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) last week issued a final rule that splits and sets separate limitations on fishing days for calendar year 2018 for the US purse seiner fleet to fish in the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and on the high seas — referred to as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS).

The final rule also allocates an additional 100 fishing days for the US purse seiner fleet fishing in the region to help American Samoa’s economy and its tuna canneries.

NMFS had initially sought public comments in May this year when it issued a notice of proposed rule making pertaining to the ELAPS and three other fishery issues. The proposed rule making is the result of decisions made during last December’s meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) — which sets rules and regulations for fishing in the western and central Pacific ocean.

In the July 18 final rule, NMFS established a limit of 1,370 fishing days on the high seas and a separate limit of 458 fishing days in the U.S. EEZ. These numbers, according to NMFS, utilize provisions of the WCPFC decision last December  “to alleviate the economic hardship experienced by American Samoa during a fishery closure and transfers 100 fishing days from the U.S. EEZ effort limit to the high seas effort limit.”

The WPFC decision also specifies that the United States may add an additional 100 fishing days to its annual purse seine fishing effort limit in the U.S. EEZ if the limit in the U.S. EEZ is reached by October 1, 2018, according to NMFS.

 Thus, under the final rule, in the event that NMFS expects that the U.S. EEZ effort limit would be reached by October 1, 2018, NMFS would publish a document in the Federal Register, no later than seven days prior to October 1, to increase the U.S. EEZ effort limit by 100 fishing days for 2018.

According to NMFS, it will monitor the number of fishing days spent in the U.S. EEZ and on the high seas using data submitted in logbooks and other available information.

NMFS points out that for several years the United States has argued that the WPFC’s  “purse seine effort limits are having a disproportionate burden on the American Samoa economy, particularly fish processing facilities like the one tuna cannery in operation.”

American Samoa, the canneries as well as the US purse seiner fleet had made similar arguments, which were reiterated by federal officials and the American Samoa delegation at the WPFC meeting last year.  American Samoa was part of the US delegation.

The additional fishing days to help the canneries and the local economy have been well-received by ASG, the canneries and the purse seiners, which off load their catches in the territory. However, The parties remain concerned that this is a short term solution, pertaining only to 2018, and not a long term solution, which is expected to be taken up at the WCPFC meeting set for Dec. 9-14, 2018 in Honolulu.