American Samoan Fishers ask Washington for help
The United States Government is being asked to declare an economic disaster for the US longline fishing fleet in American Samoa.
The United States government is being asked to declare an economic disaster for the US longline fishing fleet in American Samoa.
The Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association says local owners have been hit hard over the years by low fish prices, low catches, and the continuous increase in the cost of operating.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
At its peak, about 40 US longliners fished in the territory, but there are now just 19 actively fishing. The president of the Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association, Christina Lutu-Sanchez, says catch rates have dropped dramatically, and Chinese subsidised fishing fleets continue to drive the price of fish down. She says local owners have been operating at a loss for years, and asking for an economic disaster declaration is a last-straw cry for help.
CHRISTINA LUTU-SANCHEZ: Obviously if nothing changes, and there is no kind of assistance or no effort made, then we will just have all the boats tied up at the dock again, and you will see owners selling their boats and just out of operation. And so then the US longline fleets here in American Samoa will no longer exist.
Our correspondent Fili Sagapolutele says part of the issue is the cost associated with having to travel at least 50 nautical miles out past the Large Vessel Protected Area to fish for albacore.
FILI SAGAPOLUTELE: Albacore tuna is migratory, it moves from one area to other of the Pacific region of the ocean, so they need to have some sort of financial aid to cover their travel distance.
The Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association has also asked the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council for permission to fish in the protected area. But owners of the smaller Alia vessels, which fish in the protected area and supply fish for local restaurants and markets, are opposed to this. The president of the Pago Alia Fishing Association, Henry Sesepasara, says though they would like to find a compromise, it is a difficult thing to manage.
HENRY SESEPASARA: One longliner [can] come in with the by-catch of yellow-fin tuna, wahoo, or mahi mahi, [and] can flood the market here and local fishermen would not have no place to sell the fish. Allowing them to come in would create an economic problem for the local fishermen as well, you know. It's just two sides of the coin, you try help one, and you will have a negative effect on the other.
Mr Sesepasara says he could be open to a one year trial, but the fear is this could open the door to larger vessels fishing indefinitely in the area.
HENRY SESEPASARA: What guarantee do they give us, that it's only gonna be for one year. And not after one year they're gonna ask for another year, and after they they're gonna ask for another year. That is one of the major concerns we have here.
Christina Lutu-Sanchez says asking to fish in the protected zone is part of trying to survive. She says if local longliners stop operating, it will have a flow on effect for the rest of the American Samoa economy, especially considering they are the only source of US albacore to the canneries.
CHRISTINA LUTU-SANCHEZ: Obviously that will not exist anymore, but aside from that, we do buy everything local. Our fuel, our bait, food, our supplies are purchased from local vendors. As well as the services that we require, whether it's from the shipyard, from welders, from electricians, refrigeration technicians, we use all of those local companies, so it will directly affect them as well.
She says there are not many locally owned fishing fleets in the Pacific and it would be very disappointing if American Samoa's fleet was to disappear.
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