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The U.S National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced the tuna purse seine fishery in the "Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine" (ELAPS) will close as of 09 October.
The rule was passed on 01 October, as a result of vessels reaching the 2019 limit on purse seine fishing effort in the ELAPS. "This action is necessary for the United States to implement provisions of a conservation and management measure adopted by the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean," it said.
However, American Samoa's governor, Lolo Moliga, has written to Michael Tosatto -- regional administrator for the NMFS in the Pacific Islands -- asking for the rule to be "corrected".
The cessation of fishing in the ELAPS until the turn of the year will have a negative impact on the tuna-dependent economy of his nation, wrote Loliga.
"It will hurt the purse seiners based in American Samoa, along with our tuna processors who depend on the catch from those boats."
This includes U.S tuna firm StarKist & Co, which has a cannery on the islands. It has long struggled with raw material supply issues, and as a result of the $100 million fine for having engaged in a price-fixing conspiracy may look at moving out of American Samoa to Thailand, or carrying out layoffs.
Loliga argued there is a significant error in NMFS interim rule, as it wrongly assumes there is no adverse impact from the ELAPS closure.
"NMFS must take into account the severely negative impact of the ELAPS closure on American Samoa."
He also suggested in his letter that the closure will have no beneficial conservation impact anyway:
"The 2015 [assessment on which the ruling is based] concluded that because the fleet expends the majority of its fishing effort in areas outside of the ELAPS, there may be no overall change in the amount of fishing effort of the fleet in 2015-2020 compared to the No-Action Alternative under any of the action alternatives. This is no longer true."
"For economic reasons the U.S-flagged purse seiners based in American Samoa prefer to fish in the high seas areas not too distant from American Samoa instead of the [exclusive economic zones] of the PNA [Parties to the Nauru Agreement] countries. Fishing in the high seas is free; not so in the EEZ's of the PNA countries. There is no issue with conservation. The boats will fish whether in the high seas or someone's EEZ."
U.S waters and the high seas areas close to American Samoa have been very productive for the U.S fleet over the last few years, he wrote. Their proximity to American Samoa allows the fleet to remain within a viable range to land there, supporting the canneries as well as the larger economy of the territory.
"With the closure of the high seas, it is probable that the vessels will need to move further to the east or west and will begin to operate outside of the range to economically return to deliver their catch to American Samoa."
There are, he said, alternatives to the closure. One would be to use the "small island developing state" (SIDS) designation of American Samoa to exempt U.S-flagged purse seiners that deliver 50% or more of their catch to American Samoa from the ELAPS limits.
"Why can't American Samoa use its SIDS status for relief? Why is American Samoa being treated differently from the other SIDS? This is the same request regarding the same issue per my letter to you of 11 Aug, 2015. Despite that request and the comprehensive explanation of how the economy of American Samoa is closely tied to having adequate access to the fishing grounds near American Samoa, we remain without a remedy to this new closure."
He urged Tosatto to address the issue at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting this week.
"Again, this is not a conservation issue. It's all about international politics and competition. The people of American Samoa request your prompt attention to this urgent matter. It makes very little economic sense that our remaining cannery has to buy fish from China because the U.S-flagged fishing vessels are banned from fishing the high seas and fishing grounds closer to American Samoa."
"China's dominance over the fishing industry is becoming pervasive throughout the Pacific and American Samoa is feeling the worst negative impact of...NMFS's policy decisions, said Governor Loliga.
SOURCE: UNDER CURRENT NEWS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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