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Try Marine says rule splitting fishing days would potentially benefit American Samoa

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Washington state-based Tri Marine International is supportive of a proposed federal rule that seeks to split the fishing days in the Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS). However, it also notes its concern about another proposed rule to require a two-month FAD closure in November and December instead of in April and May.

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 limitations on 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 ELAPS. The proposed rule making is the result of decisions made last December by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Public comments period closed last month and there is no timeframe yet as to when NMFS will issue a final rule. Tri Marine was among those who submitted public comments, with the company’s chief operations officer, Joe Hamby in a letter to NMFS said, “We support the split of the ELAPs fishing limits into high seas days and EEZ days. We also appreciate the potential increased number of high seas days contained in the proposed rule for the benefit of American Samoa.”

As previously reported by Samoa News, two US based fishery companies are of the opinion that splitting the fishing days in the ELAPS will hurt the cannery in American Samoa and it will be a challenge to the cannery’s fish supply. (See Samoa News edition May 28 for details.)

Another provision being proposed in the NMFS rule making is “Restrictions on the Use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) in Purse Seine Fisheries”. In the comment letter, Hamby said Tri Marine notes that the timing of this proposed rule requires that the two-month FAD closure will be in November and December, at least for 2018, instead of April and May. 

“We ask that the agency look closely at the practical effect of this before deciding to do the same in each succeeding year,” he said. “The U.S. fleet and American Samoa may function better with the second FAD closure in the April-May time frame.”

For example, he says fishing in the high seas will be impacted by the timing of the FAD closure.  Additionally, the proposed rule does not allocate the limited number of high seas days to eligible boats.

“Therefore, we believe that there will be a race to fish in the high seas, i.e., an Olympic system,” he said. “Boats that are unable to operate during the first part of the year, or for as long as the high seas are open, will suffer an economic loss. That will include boats that are under repair.”

“We know that when the high seas have been closed, the supply of tuna to the American Samoa canneries was negatively impacted. That’s because the high seas’ fishing grounds are relatively close to American Samoa,” he explained. “Boats that cannot fish in the high seas may have to shift their areas of operation far from American Samoa, thereby depriving the Territory of tuna supply.”

He said if the FAD closure is in November and December and there are no high seas days remaining at that time, “we would expect a reduction in fish supply to American Samoa. A high seas FAD closure in April and May, or an allocation of high seas days, or both, would mitigate this risk. We encourage NMFS to take these concerns into consideration.”

Commenting on the overall provisions of the proposed rule, Hamby points out that Tri Marine has always supported robust fishery management measures that provide for the sustainability of highly migratory tuna stocks and support tuna-dependent economies, like American Samoa.”