Press Release – Council Members Recollect WCPFC Decisions and Set ACLs for American Samoa Bottomfish (13 December 2023)

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HONOLULU (13 December 2023) Outcomes from the 20th annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting dominated Council discussion today. The WCPFC, meeting in the Cook Islands, increased the U.S. Hawai‘i-based longline fishery bigeye tuna catch limit from 3,554 to 6,554 metric tons after considering the healthy stock status and the highly monitored and compliant nature of the fishery.

However, the United States was unsuccessful in preserving a key provision in the tropical tuna conservation and management measure allowing for the transfer of catch to the Hawai‘i longline fishery. The funds derived from these specified fishing agreements have supported fishery development initiatives in the U.S. Pacific Territories described in Marine Conservation Plans (MCPs) in alignment with the Council’s Fishery Ecosystem Plans.

Council members, the Chair, the heads of delegation for American Samoa and CNMI, and the Executive Director were alarmed and frustrated about the lack of communications during the negotiations within the U.S. delegation. Subsequently, the U.S. government was highly restrictive on all communications with other delegations and the WCPFC Scientific Services Provider.

Both the CNMI and American Samoa heads of delegation were shocked by a U.S. intervention that stated the U.S. territories have no longline fleets or aspirations for fishery development in the foreseeable future. Guam, the CNMI and American Samoa are Participating Territories that have similar rights and aspirations as other Pacific Island Small Island Developing States.

“I wanted to speak up, but didn’t out of concern that it would affect all that we tried to get done,” Archie Soliai, Council member and American Samoa head of delegation. He added, “The loss of fisheries development funding was disappointing, to say the least, but we expect the U.S. federal government to replace these funds.” In addition to NOAA, other federal agencies will be asked to support the territories.

“Hawai‘i won, but the territories lost,” said Council Chair Will Sword. “We appreciate the funding received from the Hawaii Longline Association over the past 10 years, but the funding gap needs to be filled immediately.”

“The U.S. government had at least a dozen bilateral meetings with other delegations, yet they never reported specifics, nor were the Commissioners or delegates invited,” said Sylvan Igisomar, Council member and CNMI head of delegation.

The Council will convey to NOAA the shortcomings of the United States Government to include the U.S. Participating Territories and other delegation members at WCPFC20.

Another funding source for MCP projects is fishing agreements with foreign countries. The Council will coordinate with the U.S. Pacific Territories, NMFS, and NOAA General Counsel to continue exploring the feasibility of using Pacific Insular Area Fishing Agreements (PIAFAs).

 

American Samoa Bottomfish Catch Limits

Regarding American Samoa bottomfish management unit species, the Council recommended discontinuing the rebuilding plan as a follow up to the stock assessment reviewed at the June 2023 Council meeting that confirmed the fishery was not overfished or experiencing overfishing. Instead of an aggregate annual catch limit (ACL), the Council specified single species ACLs from 2024-2026 for nine assessed species based on their respective risk of overfishing and management uncertainty analysis scores.

The Council discussed that the current data collection and monitoring systems in American Samoa do not allow for real-time tracking of catches in a timely manner. Instead, the Council recommended a post-season accountability measure that if the average catch of the three most recent years exceeds the specified ACL in a fishing year, the ACL for the following fishing year will be reduced by the amount of the overage.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, the CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (chair); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Judith Guthertz, University of Guam (Guam); Pete Itibus, noncommercial fisher (CNMI); Shaelene Kamaka‘ala, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (Hawai‘i); and Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i). Designated state officials: Dawn Chang, Hawai‘i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Sylvan Igisomar, CNMI Dept. of Lands & Natural Resources (vice chair); Chelsa Muña, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; and Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources (vice chair). Designated federal officials (voting): Sarah Malloy (acting), NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman, U.S. State Dept.; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Michael Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.

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