Proposal to change fishing days in the ELAPS is 'arbitrary and capricious' says opposition
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Through a proposed rule making, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) outlined how it will allocate the additional 100 fishing days for the US purse seiner fleet fishing in the region to help American Samoa’s economy and its tuna canneries.
The NMFS is also proposing to set separate limitation of fishing days for the purse seiner fleet to fish in the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and on the high seas areas known as the Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS).
The move to split the EEZ and high seas have prompted strong opposition from US based purse seiner operators who describe the proposal as "arbitrary and capricious”.
Questions were raised during the March 2018 meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu on how NMFS would allocate, utilize, and monitor the additional 100 fishing days for 2018 for American Samoa, to ensure sufficient fish supply for the StarKist Samoa cannery, which has faced fish supply shortage for the last two years.
For the proposal to set separate limitations for the ELAPS, public comments are due today, May 25th, according to NMFS public documents, which notes that limits are 558 fishing days in the U.S. EEZ and 1,270 on the high seas for each of the calendar years 2018-2020.
A decision late last year by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) during its annual meeting, includes a new provision for 2018 only, that allows the US to transfer 100 fishing days from its limit in the EEZ to its limit on the high seas.
And if the EEZ limit is reached by October 1, 2018, the EEZ limit will be increased by an additional 100 fishing days, with the expectation that the catch taken by U.S. flagged vessels and landed in American Samoa for the American Samoa canneries is no less than the volume landed in 2017 plus an additional 3,500 tons.
“This new provision was intended to alleviate the economic hardship faced by American Samoa and its canneries when U.S. purse seine fishing limits are reached, resulting in fishery closures,” NMFS explained.
NMFS said its reasoning for combining the high seas and U.S. EEZ limits in the past years was that it afforded more operational flexibility to the fleet and there are no substantial differences in terms of effects to living marine resources for treating the two areas separately or combined so long as the overall effort remained equal or less than the sum of the two limits.
“The proposed rule would establish a limit of 1,370 fishing days on the high seas and a separate limit of 458 fishing days in the U.S. EEZ,” said NMFS, adding that these numbers utilize the provision of the WCPFC decision last year “to alleviate the economic hardship experienced by American Samoa during a fishery closure and transfer 100 fishing days from the U.S. EEZ effort limit to the high seas effort limit.”
In line with the Commission’s decision, the proposed rule also adds an additional 100 fishing days to the U.S. EEZ if the limit in the U.S. EEZ is reached by October 1, 2018.
“If enacted, NMFS’s proposal will have very significant impacts on many vessels in the U.S. purse seine fleet, potentially costing U.S. vessels millions of dollars in lost fishing opportunities to the benefit of a few vessels and more broadly, their foreign competitors,” according to a May 22nd comment letter from San Diego-based South Pacific Tuna Corporation, which manages 14 purse seine vessels that generally operate in western and central Pacific ocean.
According to the letter, splitting the ELAPS is “arbitrary and capricious, and therefore unlawful,” under the federal Administrative Procedure Act. “SPTC strongly recommends” that NMFS retain the existing ELAPS, and “not implement the proposed ELAPS split,” the letter says.
Also opposed to the proposed rule are San Diego based fishery companies, Ocean Global Fisheries LLC and Sea Global Fisheries LLC. “By creating separate limits for the US EEZ and the High Seas, NMFS has effectively reduced fishing opportunities for the U.S. fleet by over 400 days,” according to the companies' joint May 22nd comment letter, which notes that there is no legitimate reason given by NMFS on why it has proposed splitting the ELAPS.
“One can only surmise that it is to support or give preference to one sector over another with the actual effect being, giving less well-managed foreign fleets an advantage or to support the agendas of NGO’s petitioning for reductions in effort,” the letter states, adding that “we view this action [by NMFS] as arbitrary and capricious against the U.S. fleet operators and a direct attempt to further damage Industry.”
As of yesterday morning these were the only two main comments filed on public record through federal portal <www.regulations.gov>. Samoa News notes that ELAPS proposed rule document includes other changes being proposed by NMFS.