Three issues concerning Am Samoa to be considered by Westpac
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The 197th meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will convene December 12-13, 2023, by web conference (Webex).
Of particular interest to American Samoa are:
• Fishing Regulations for the Proposed Pacific Remote Island National Marine Sanctuary;
• Discontinuing the Rebuilding Plan and Annual Catch Limit Specifications for the American Samoa Bottomfish Fishery for 2024-2026; and
• Amending the Multi-year US Territorial Bigeye Tuna Catch Limit and Allocation Specification Action
FISHING REGULAIONS FOR PROPOSED PRI
At its 196th meeting, the data presented to the Council by NMFS showed that the impacts of the existing fisheries as managed under current fisheries regulations are well below measurable and objective thresholds established by NOAA pursuant to requirements set forth under the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (i.e., no fish stocks are overfished or subject to overfishing, and no essential fish habitats are being adversely affected), Endangered Species Act (i.e., no fisheries are jeopardizing species or destroying/adversely modifying critical habitat listed under the ESA), and other applicable laws. The data also showed the importance of fishing to the culture of American Samoa and a reduction of fishing would represent a disproportionate socioeconomic burden to the Territory of American Samoa and the US longline and purse seine fleets.
Recognizing that a goal of the proposed sanctuary is to support cultural heritage, and that fishing is central to the culture of Pacific island communities, the Council took initial action on draft fishing regulations for the proposed sanctuary in the PRI. The Council preliminarily found that the existing fishing regulations under the current structure may already meet the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary (as written) and directed staff to continue discussing the issue with NMFS and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to determine if additional regulations may be necessary.
At its 197th meeting in December 2023, the Council will be provided with additional information from these discussions for consideration on final action for fishing regulations for the proposed PRI National Marine Sanctuary. The final decision from the Council is due to NOAA by December 20, 2023. The Council may choose to:
1. Determine that fishing regulations are sufficient to meet the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary; or
2. Revise/add fishing regulations that may be needed to meet the goals and objectives of the proposed sanctuary.
CATCH LIMIT FOR AMERICAN SAMOA BOTTOMFISH FISHERY
In 2018, a stock assessment was published that determined that the American Samoa bottomfish complex was overfished and experiencing overfishing. With that determination, the Council was informed by NMFS to a change in stock status for the American Samoa bottomfish requiring the Council to end overfishing and to develop a rebuilding plan within 15 months. In response, the Council specified lower catch limits to less than 5,000 lbs. to reduce overfishing and developed a rebuilding plan that would help to restore the bottomfish stocks. The Council, however, noted the issues with the data and stock assessment and requested NMFS to reassess the stocks.
A new benchmark assessment for the American Samoa bottomfish management unit species (BMUS) was presented to the Council in June 2023 that used previous recommendations to split the bottomfish species complex into individual species and include other data sources. The benchmark assessment has a higher species-level resolution and found that the fishery was not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. While some species exhibited a decline in catch rate, fishing pressure had also been declining. The new assessment was reviewed by the Western Pacific Stock Assessment Review (WPSAR) panel and the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and deemed the Best Scientific Information Available (BSIA) for the American Samoa bottomfish stock.
In August 2023, the Council’s P* (Risk of Overfishing) and SEEM (Social Economic Ecological and Management) Working Groups evaluated the scientific, social, ecological, economic, and management uncertainties and recommended a risk level to the Council. The SSC at its September 2023 meeting provided the Council with a level of Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) for American Samoa BMUS based on the stock assessment. Utilizing the ABC and the results of the P* and SEEM analyses, the Council, at its 196th meeting, took initial action and preliminarily specified an aggregated annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for the American Samoa bottomfish fishery for fishing years 2024-2026. In light of the new findings of no overfishing occurring and the stock not being overfished, the Council recommended discontinuing the current rebuilding plan for the American Samoa bottomfish fishery.
At its 197th meeting, the Council will consider taking final action on an alternative for discontinuing the rebuilding plan and specifying the ACL and AMs for the American Samoa Bottomfish fishery for fishing years 2024-2026. The Council will consider the following alternatives:
1) Alternative 1: No Action. Do not discontinue the rebuilding plan. 2) Alternative 2: Discontinue the rebuilding plan and
a. Specify an aggregated ACL for the nine assessed BMUS for fishing years 2024- 2026. (Preliminarily Preferred)
b. Specify nine single BMUS ACLs for fishing years 2024-2026 based on P* and SEEM
c. Specify nine single BMUS ACLs for fishing years 2024-2026 lower than P* and SEEM
US TERRITORIAL BIGEYE TUNA CATCH LIMIT
In December 2021, the WCPFC agreed on conservation and management measure (CMM) 2021-01, which maintained the 2016 longline bigeye limits of six countries, including the United States, which has a limit of 3,554 metric tons (mt). Like earlier measures, it does not establish an individual limit on bigeye tuna catch that may be harvested annually in the Convention Area by Small Island Developing States and Participating Territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI. This measure will expire at the end of 2023 with a possibility of new catch limits for fishery sectors and flag states under the WCPFC.
Stock assessments conducted in August 2023 indicate the bigeye tuna stock is not subject to overfishing, nor overfished. The stock is about 35% unfished biomass. In September, the SPC provided future stock projection analyses showing that significant increases in bigeye catch, relative to recent 2019-2021 levels, could occur over the next 30 years without significant overfishing risk.
Amendment 7 to the Council’s Pacific Pelagic FEP established a management framework that puts limits on the catch and effort of pelagic management unit species (MUS) for the U.S. Participating Territories. The framework also includes the ability for the territories to use, assign, allocate and manage the pelagic MUS catch and effort limits through agreements with U.S. fishing vessels. This framework has been used by the Council since 2014 to manage the bigeyetuna catch by the U.S. fishing vessels in the Western Pacific. It has provided the territories the ability to make an agreement with the Hawaii longline fleet to allocate a portion of its bigeye tuna catch in exchange for funding fishery development projects.
In 2019, the Council took final action to modify the management framework to provide multi-year catch and effort allocation limits. The modifications allow the Council to: improve an unnecessarily restrictive catch, effort and allocation limits protocol; provide flexibility in managing pelagic MUS limits in support of fisheries development in the territories; reduce disruptions to the fishery related to administrative work required to implement annual specifications; and continue to ensure harvests are sustainable. That action also specified catch limits for the 2021 to 2023 fishing years. However, due to the development of a new stock assessment for bigeye tuna as well as new Biological Opinions on the Hawaii longline fishery, these actions are yet to be implemented.
Since then, the Council’s recommendation for modifying the management framework still stands but the territorial bigeye tuna catch and allocation limit specifications has lapsed. In order to continue with the Council’s action, the Council at its 194th Meeting in March 2023, took initial action and recommended a preliminarily preferred alternative of no catch limits and 1,500 t allocation limits for each U.S. participating territory for fishing years 2024 through 2026.
At its 197th Meeting, the Council may take final action for specifying the multi-year territorial bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits through the Council’s previously recommended modification of the management framework. The Council will consider allocation limits and the option to set catch limits for territories through the following alternatives with associated sub- alternatives, specifically for WCPO bigeye for the fishing years 2024 to 2026:
1. No catch or allocation limits (No Action); or
2. Catch limit of 2,000 per territory and 1,500 allocation limits, limiting total transfers to 3,000 mt (status quo); or
3. Specify for each U.S. participating territory up to a 1,500 t allocation limit, with the option to set a catch limit without the requirement to do so; or
4. Specify for each U.S. participating territory an 2,000 t allocation limit, with the option to set a catch limit without the requirement to do so.
The following venues will be the host sites for the 197th Council meeting web conference:
• Hawaii: Council Conference Room, 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu
• American Samoa: Tedi of Samoa Building Suite 208B, Fagatogo Village
• Guam: Cliff Pointe, 304 W. O'Brien Drive, Hagatna
• CNMI: BRI Building Suite 205, Kopa Di Oru St. Garapan, Saipan
The Council will consider and may take action on the issues summarized above, including any public comments on them. Written public comments on final action items should be received by the Council’s executive director by 5 p.m. (HST), Thursday, December 8, 2023, by postal mail, fax or email as indicated below.
Mail: Ms. Kitty M. Simonds, Executive Director; Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400 Honolulu, HI 96813
FAX: (808)522-8226 E-mail: email@example.com
The Webex link for the meeting is: https://tinyurl.com/197CouncilMtg (if prompted, enter event number: 2630 593 6741; password: CM197mtg). Specific information on joining the meeting, instructions for connecting to the Webex and providing oral public comments during the meeting will be posted on the Council website at: https://www.wpcouncil.org/event/197th-council-meeting/