(based on press release)
UTULEI, AMERICAN SAMOA (22 October 2019)
"Fisheries sustains our livelihoods in all aspects of our lives" was the core message that reverberated through the remarks of Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who opened the 180th meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Congresswoman Aumua Amata Radewagen's opening remarks echoed those of the Lt. Governor. "Fishing has sustained us for our entire history," she said. "Fishing forms the backbone of our local economy." She noted that the U.S. purse-seine fleet, which provides tuna to the American Samoa-based cannery, pays up to $2 million annually per vessel in access fees to fish in foreign exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters. Restoring the ability of U.S. fishermen to access U.S. EEZ waters that are now closed due to marine national monument regulations "remains the Interior Department's clear recommendation," she added. "It is my priority to get this important decision onto the President's agenda." She said that the Chinese longline fleet has soared to more than 500 and now catches 45 percent of the South Pacific albacore, while the American Samoa longline fleet has dropped from 60 vessels to 13 active vessels. "The US must
MWR Director Va'amua Henry Sesepasara, Taulapapa William Sword
and Congresswoman Aumua Amata Radewagen
be alert to the actions of China, monitor how that affects our fleet, and be constantly active and engaged in the Pacific region," she said.
Mike McDonald from the American Samoa Department of Commerce provided a report on the importance of the cannery to the American Samoa gross domestic product (GDP). According to the report, if the cannery were to shut down it would be a $200 million loss annually, which represents one third of the Territory's GDP. The report said the cannery provides 25 percent of the territory's jobs and effectively subsidizes the cost of freight and fuel to American Samoa, as the cost of both would be significantly more if that cannery were not in the Territory.
Va'amua Henry Sesepasara, director of the Territory's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), reviewed fishery development and fishery data collection efforts.
Based in part from recommendations by the Council's American Samoa Advisory Panel and Regional Ecosystem Advisory Committee, the Council voted to work with DMWR to improve its data collection, to assist with outreach to fishing communities and to work with the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Commerce to support ecosystem modeling on climate change impacts. At the request of the Territory's Commerce Department, the Council will also write a letter of support to the US Economic Development Administration for the alia tele, also known as the Super Alia. Based on the traditional double-hull fishing vessel design but larger in size, the alia tele will have the capacity to fish further from shore using multiple gear types.
The Council recommended that DMWR expedite its fishery development projects, provide a plan to improve its fishery data program and meet with the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa to address concerns of Aunu'u chiefs regarding enforcement of Sanctuary rules and other important issues.
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai'i governor nominees: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (Guam vice chair); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai'I vice chair); Howard Dunham, American Samoa Alia Fishing Association (American Samoa); Monique Genereux, business owner (Guam); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai'i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai'i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US State Dept.; Brian Peck, USFWS.