The American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources presented a draft Bottomfish Management Plan to the Council that was developed with input from fishing communities in Tutuila and Manu‘a. The plan includes mandatory catch reporting; fisher and fish dealer licensing; vessel registration; seasonal, area-based and catch-based closures; and size limits.
In his remarks to open the Council meeting, American Samoa Governor Lemanu Mauga said fishing is a way of life in the islands and a vital aspect of his culture. He noted that only a tiny portion of the bottomfishers’ catch is sold—most is “eaten, shared and distributed among families, especially during fa‘alavelaves (cultural events, funerals, weddings, etc.) and holidays. Perhaps, it is also high time to explore more culturally appropriate ways of managing this type of small, cultural and subsistence fishery.”
“The dilemma that we are facing in American Samoa is the difficulty of melding Western ways with cultural ways we live by every day,” said Kitty Simonds, Council executive director. Simonds pointed out the Council has worked for many years to develop a management system without strict regulations that better fits the Western Pacific Region.
Manny Dueñas, Council vice chair from Guam, supported the recommendation, but with reservations about the health and welfare of the American Samoa community. He commented he would hate to be in Council Chairman Soliai’s shoes when he tells the community to stop catching fish for their festivities. The Guam bottomfish fishery is overfished according to a 2019 NMFS stock assessment.
The territory has a population of approximately 58,000 people, with more than 54% living under the poverty level. The ACL for the bottomfish stock complex specified in 2017 was 106,000 pounds.
The Council manages federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai‘i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Areas.
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (vice chair); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i); and McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Anthony Benavente, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; and Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine and Wildlife Resources (chair). Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman and Rebecca Wintering, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and RADM Matthew Sibley, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.