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What rules should prevail in overlap between Tropical Tuna Commission and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries?

US National Marine Fisheries Service logo
IATTC would be more beneficial to the economy of American Samoa, Gov. Lolo says

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The San Diego-based American Tunaboat Association (ATA) has lent its “strong support” to a proposed federal rule, which addresses management of the “Area of Overlap” between the Convention Areas of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

In a letter dated Nov. 21st, to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), ATA executive director William Gibbons-Fly said the proposed rule, “would also respond to some of the concerns of Governor [Lolo Matalasi] Moliga regarding the adverse effects of current conditions on the economy of American Samoa.”

In June 2018, NMFS issued an “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” seeking public comments on a possible change in the 2016 discretionary decision by the federal agency to apply, for three years, the tuna management measures of the WCPFC to an area in the Pacific Ocean where the geographic jurisdiction of that international management body overlaps with its counterpart, the IATTC.

Lolo, in a July 2018 comment letter tells NMFS that, “It is the position of the American Samoa Government that applying rules” of IATTC rather then WCPFC in the Overlap Area  “would be more beneficial to the economy of American Samoa,” the governor wrote.

The governor reminded the the feds that “American Samoa’s main economic driver is the tuna industry and with numerous challenges that the industry faces, it is important to gain advantage where possible; this is one of those rare opportunities.” (See Samoa News edition July 19, 2018 for details). Others who responded at the time also supports such a move.

Early this month NMFS announced the proposed ruling making dealing with the Overlap Area, with Nov. 22nd as the deadline for public comments submission.

In his comment letter, Gibbons-Fly said that ATA members - who are owners and operators of large tuna purse seine vessels operating under U.S. flag in the Pacific Ocean - “are directly affected, more than any other stakeholders, by the decision under consideration.”

Gibbons-Fly notes that there are a number of compelling arguments for applying IATTC rules in the Overlap Area. In particular, he said “the IATTC rules are fairer, more transparent, and more clearly delineated in terms of the rules to be applied than are the WCPFC rules, thus reducing considerable uncertainty with respect to potential violations.”

Moreover, the “IATTC regime establishes a more level playing field for the U.S. fleet when compared to other fleets in the fishery, and it is more effectively monitored and enforced to ensure that everyone is abiding by the same rules,” he argued.

“For these reasons, applying the IATTC rules to the Overlap Area would benefit the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet, which currently operates at a significant competitive disadvantage to its foreign competitors,” he said, adding that it’s well-known that approximately one quarter of the U.S. fleet recently left U.S. flag due to the adverse economic conditions affecting the fleet.

“If adopted and applied correctly, this proposed change could be one important step to mitigate these conditions and to stabilize the current situation,” he said but noted that there is one aspect of the Proposed Rule that “raises a significant concern” which is the provision that the WCPFC measures relating to monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) measures would continue to apply in the Overlap Area.

According to the ATA official more U.S. vessels are choosing to fish exclusively in the IATTC Area for all or a significant part of the year, rather than in the EEZs of Pacific Island nations where “access has become prohibitively expensive for many vessels.”

He argued that the continued application of WCPFC MCS measures in the Overlap Area would appear to mean that vessels can only fish in this area with an observer certified by both organizations (IATTC and WCPFC), commonly referred to as a “cross-endorsed” observer, or alternatively, with two observers, one from each organization.

In practice, he said all cross-endorsed observers are WCPFC observers that receive additional training from the IATTC to operate in the IATTC Area. And there are no cross-endorsed observers from the IATTC that are similarly approved to operate in the WCPFC Area.

Thus, for any trip fished exclusively in the IATTC Area, the need to embark a cross-endorsed (WCPFC) observer will make fishing in the Overlap Area “more logistically complicated, more expensive, and thus a significantly less viable option than would otherwise be the case.”

He notes for example, a vessel departing from an Eastern Pacific port has two options to embark a WCPFC observer: fly the observer to the port of departure, at the cost of the travel as well as lost fishing time of a week or more; or  steam to Christmas Island or other port to pick the observer up, again at the loss of significant fishing time and fuel costs in excess of $20,000.

ATA urges NMFS to modify this provision so that vessels fishing exclusively in the IATTC Area can fish lawfully in the Overlap Area without a WCPFC cross-endorsed observer, he said.

Tri Marine International, which operates purse seiner fleet and owner of Samoa Tuna Processors facility in Satala, also disagrees with “cross-endorsed” observer, arguing that the requirement to carry a cross-endorsed IATTC/WCPFC observer for fishing in the overlap area OR two observers, one from IATTC and one from WCPFC, “will be both operationally difficult and economically wasteful.”

Samoa News has heard from two US purses seiner owners last week who agreed with ATA and Tri Marine and plans to file their own comments.