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The National Marine and Fisheries Services is proposing a catch limit of 2,000 metric tons of longline-caught bigeye tuna for Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa, in a bid to support the long-term sustainability of fishery resources of the U.S. Pacific islands.
“Without this catch limit, these U.S territories would not be subject to a limit because, as participating territories to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, they do not have a bigeye tuna limit under international measures adopted by the WCPFC,” NMFS said in its filing recently posted on the Federal Register.
Based on this proposed action, NMFS would authorize each U.S. Pacific territory to allocate up to 1,000 mt of its 2,000-mt bigeye tuna limit to U.S. longline fishing vessels that are permitted to fish under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific.
Citing an evaluation by the chief counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce, NMFS said there would be little— if any— disproportionate adverse economic impacts from the proposed rule based on gear type or relative vessel size.
“The proposed rule also will not place a substantial number of small entities, or any segment of small entities, at a significant competitive disadvantage to large entities,” Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.
As an accountability measure, Oliver said, the NMFS will monitor catches of longline-caught bigeye tuna by the longline fisheries of each U.S Pacific territory, including catches made by U.S. longline vessels operating under specified fishing agreements.
“When NMFS projects that a territorial catch or allocation limit will be reached, NMFS would…prohibit the catch and retention of longline-caught bigeye tuna by vessels in the applicable territory (if the territorial catch limit is projected to be reached), and/or vessels in a specified fishing agreement (if the allocation limit is projected to be reached),” NMFS said.
Meanwhile, the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council is evaluating its 2016 decision to reduce the area off-limits to large vessels along the coast of American Samoa, which has been invalidated by a federal court in Hawaii.
The court’s ruling issued in March was based on a lawsuit by American Samoa government which challenged the NMFS’s decision to shrink the large-vessel-protected area to 12 miles from the shoreline, allowing vessels 50 feet and longer to net hauls traditionally reserved for local fishermen.
Fishing waters had been preserved for small boat fishing fleet from the shoreline out to 50 miles since 2002 and the court agreed that such policy is in line with efforts to preserve the American Samoans’ cultural fishing rights as implied under the Instruments of Cession.
“The council is currently reevaluating the (long vessel protected area) rule, including options to define cultural fishing rights in American Samoa that are subject to preservation and protection,” NMFS said.
SOURCE: MARIANAS VARIETY/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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