Press Release – Council Science Advisors Weigh In on American Samoa Bottomfish Catch Limits, EM in Pacific Islands Region (12 September 2023)

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HONOLULU (12 September 2023) The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) today reviewed options to sustainably fish for American Samoa bottomfish species caught in federal waters 3-200 miles offshore from 2024 to 2026. In their discussion, SSC members took into account a 2023 NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center bottomfish stock assessment for nine shallow- and deep-water species and an analysis completed in August that quantified the scientific uncertainties in the assessment.

The SSC determined setting individual acceptable biological catch limits for the managed species aligned best with the information in the stock assessment. Members pointed out that choosing an aggregated limit could lead to the same issue that occurred in 2019 when a previous assessment of the bottomfish complex indicated it was overfished and undergoing overfishing.

The SSC also weighed in on accountability measures for the bottomfish fishery. Members agreed in-season monitoring using the creel survey would be challenging due to the data uncertainty. The SSC determined if the fishery does exceed the catch limit, then a post-season overage adjustment based on a three-year average would even out natural fluctuations between fishing years. To compensate for the overage, the Council could then recommend reducing the catch limit for the following time period.

Domingo Ochavillo, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources representative, noted there is a general declining trend in the bottomfish fishery due to the high cost of operations and lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Many highliners have left the fishery—with the high cost of fuel, fish are expensive to eat,” he said.

The SSC also discussed the need for a pre-implementation program for electronic monitoring (EM) in Pacific Island longline fisheries, including the benefits and drawbacks for use in the Hawai‘i deep-set or shallow-set longline fisheries, or the American Samoa longline fishery. The three fisheries have different levels of participation, percentage federal observer coverage and gear setting requirements (day vs. night). Considering these factors, the SSC supported the Council proceeding with a hybrid approach of the Hawai‘i deep-set and shallow-set longline fisheries. Further, the SSC supported the program’s primary goal to be protected species monitoring and estimation, with a secondary goal of monitoring discards.

EM is intended to supplement, not replace, human observer coverage, which is still needed to obtain biological samples at sea, among other on-board duties. EM is expected to become more widespread in the future, especially for tuna fisheries. SSC member Shelton Harley is now the chair of the intersessional working group on electronic reporting and monitoring for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Harley commended the pre-implementation program document and stated that it provides a clear framework to successfully roll out EM in Western Pacific fisheries.


Scientific and Statistical Committee: James Lynch (chair); Jason Biggs (Guam Division of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources); Debra Cabrera (University of Guam); Frank Camacho (University of Guam); Milani Chaloupka (University of Queensland); Erik Franklin (University of Hawai‘i, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology); Shelton Harley (Fisheries New Zealand); Jason Helyer (Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources); Ray Hilborn (University of Washington); Justin Hospital (National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center); Dave Itano (Fisheries Consultant); Donald Kobayashi (NMFS PIFSC); Steve Martell (Sea State Inc.); Domingo Ochavillo (American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources); Graham Pilling (The Pacific Community); Craig Severance (University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, retired); Francisco Villagomez (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Fish & Wildlife); Charles Littnan (ex-officio) (NMFS PIFSC).
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.