Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written to Ms. Kitty Simonds, Executive Director of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (WPFMC) regarding the U.S. tuna fishing fleet and the EEZs of American Samoa, Guam, and CNMI. The Congressman copied his letter to Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the President of the Senate and Senators, the Speaker of the House and Representatives, the Attorney General, and Paul Krampe, Executive Director of the American Tunaboat Association. The complete text of Faleomavaega’s letter is included below.
Dear Ms. Simonds:
On June 17, 2008, my office was contacted by Mr. Paul Krampe, Executive Director of the American Tunaboat Association, outlining his position regarding the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam, but particularly American Samoa. Mr. Krampe stated that the U.S. tuna fishing fleet should have access to fish in our EEZs and forwarded the following letters (enclosed) to make his case:
1998, May 19, letter from U.S. Tuna Foundation to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC)
2001, February 5, letter from U.S. Tuna Foundation to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council
2008, April 11, letter from American Tunaboat Association to Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.
From these letters that were addressed to you, it is clear that both the U.S. Tuna Foundation and the American Tunaboat Association have been engaged in discussions with the WPFMC regarding the use of American Samoa’s waters unbeknownst to my office and possibly without the knowledge of the American Samoa Government. While I realize that American Samoa is represented on the Council, when issues affecting American Samoa’s future are brought before the Council, I believe it is important for our elected officials to also be notified and involved in your discussions. I am very disappointed that this was not the case. However, I am hopeful that we can work together to put a plan in place that reflects the wishes of our people and Legislature. For this reason, I am copying Governor Togiola and the American Samoa Legislature so that they, too, can have input in this discussion.
Regarding American Samoa’s waters, it is important to understand the history of our U.S. tuna fishing fleet before making determinations about our EEZs. Most of our tuna boats used to fish in the Eastern Pacific and operated out of San Diego, California. But, when U.S. law mandated that tuna had to be dolphin safe, and amid criticism of illegal fishing, the U.S. tuna fleet looked for a new home base, especially after the U.S.-owned Jeanette Diana was captured by the Solomon Islanders in September 1984 for fishing illegally in that nation’s EEZ. At the time, the 15-member South Pacific Forum condemned in the strongest terms possible “the continued illegal fishing activities of the United States purse seiners and other foreign fishing vessels within the 200-mile EEZs of its member states.”
Shortly thereafter, the United States negotiated an agreement with 16 Pacific Island States, now known as the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which became effective on June 15, 1988, and American Samoa became the home base to the old U.S. tuna fishing fleet which was once based out of San Diego. Over the decades, the boats have gotten old, the price of tuna has gone down, gas prices have gone up, and our fleet has dwindled down from about 35 boats to 14, and this raises serious questions about where our canneries are going to get their fish. Given that American Samoa’s private sector economy is more than 80% dependent on our two tuna canneries, I have been working with the South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC), a U.S. company in partnership with a Taiwanese company, to increase the number of tuna boats in our fleet. According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. is allowed up to 40 vessels to fish in the Western Pacific Tropic, and we are hopeful to increase the U.S. tuna fishing fleet from 14 to 24 vessels within the next two years.
Since U.S. shipyards have not built a new tuna vessel in the past 30 years, our new vessels are being built in Taiwan. Although the vessels are being built in Taiwan, these vessels are U.S. boats and are licensed to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty area. As I stated earlier, some 20 years ago the U.S. State Department negotiated an agreement between the United States and 16 Pacific Island States commonly referred to as the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. Under this Treaty, U.S. tuna fishing vessels, no matter where they are built as long as they are U.S. flag, which includes our new boats, can fish in the EEZs of these 16 Pacific Island States. The Treaty also provides for our old U.S. tuna boats built in the U.S. to fish in the EEZs of American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Jarvis Island, Howland Island, Baker Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll.
While I support our old and new U.S. tunaboats fishing in the uninhabited areas of Jarvis Island, Howland Island, Baker Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll, I do not support old or new boats fishing in American Samoa’s EEZs. The new U.S. boats built in Taiwan have agreed not to fish in our EEZ and have supported legislation that I have introduced which would allow the new boats to fish in the uninhabited areas of Jarvis Island, Howland Island, Baker Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll but would close off the waters of American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam.
As for the old boats built in the U.S., the South Pacific Tuna Treaty entitles them to also fish in uninhabited areas of Jarvis Island, Howland Island, Baker Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll, which I support. The glitch is the Treaty from 20 years ago allows the old U.S. tunaboats to also fish within the 200-mile EEZs of Guam, CNMI, and American Samoa, and Congress cannot change this since these are the terms of the agreement the U.S. State Department negotiated in 1988.
But the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council is authorized to propose and establish areas of closure for purposes of ensuring the sustainability of our fisheries, and I am hopeful that the old boats will work with the Council and support your efforts to establish a 100-mile closure around all of the islands of American Samoa, Guam, and CNMI. For the new boats, my position is non-negotiable. I will not allow their access to American Samoa’s waters. For the old boats which have been operating in our waters for the past 20 years as a result of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, I will support the Council’s decision to allow them to fish beyond 100 miles of our waters pending Governor Togiola’s input and the input of the American Samoa Legislature.
By way of this letter, I am informing the American Tunaboat Association of my position and openness to compromise considering that the old U.S. tunaboats have contributed to American Samoa’s economy. On the other hand, the old U.S. tunaboats have made hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, so they have benefited from the relationship and should be willing to work with the Council to protect American Samoa’s waters for future generations.
Regretfully, after all these years, the old boats will not sign an agreement with the American Samoa Government promising to offload their fish at our canneries. Neither will the new boats. While this is disappointing, the people of American Samoa expect anyone doing business in our Territory to be good corporate partners. No matter what they may or may not contribute to our economy, American Samoa cannot have old boats or new coming into our waters, taking our fish, discarding the by-catch, and leaving nothing for our people in years to come.