Council Tackles Trade Barriers to US Tuna Fisheries at Meeting 

HONOLULU — Members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council called attention to impediments to U.S. fisheries due to unfair trade practices by foreign fisheries. “Dumping” of cheaper, lower-quality fishery products into the United States undercuts the profitability of U.S. fisheries. These foreign fisheries are often heavily subsidized by other nations, including for operational costs, labor, fuel and ship building.

The Council recommended convening a group of experts, inviting federal agencies and the fishing industry, to address these regional unfair trade issues. Regarding U.S. labeling regulations, the members requested the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, NOAA, State of Hawai‘i, Territories of Guam and American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) agencies to enforce Country of Origin Labeling and other local requirements.

Council Chair Taulapapa William Sword supported the need to address trade and labeling regulations, citing the precarious situation in American Samoa. “If our fishermen can’t compete, fish, sustain a profit, and provide protein for our communities, not only do we lose food security in American Samoa, our economy dies,” Sword said. Guam Council member Manny Dueñas praised the National Seafood Strategy but warned, “If we continue to let monuments and sanctuaries drive management, developing the Strategy is an exercise in futility.”

In addition to trade issues, the Council heard updates from the U.S. Coast Guard regarding high seas boarding and inspection (HSBI). This program monitors compliance of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) regulations. Members expressed concern over recent reports of HSBI boardings by China, including Chinese Coast Guard vessels intimidating Philippine fishing vessels. In order to increase the efficacy of HSBI and promote safety at sea, the Council recommended the U.S. government continue its efforts to elevate the WCPFC Resolution on Labor Standards as binding, to allow HSBI parties power to enforce human rights at sea.

Regarding green sea turtles, Council members from the U.S. Pacific Territories urged the federal government to consider the cultural uses of these sea creatures. For more than 4,000 years, the CHamoru and Refaluwasch people have used green sea turtles for medicinal, subsistence and cultural practices. However, the Endangered Species Act and the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) create barriers, despite a narrow subsistence exemption in the IAC.

The Council territory members recommended utilizing nurseries and involving community members to find innovative ways to recover the green sea turtle population. “The communities have a vested interest in raising healthy turtles if they are part of the solution,” said Muña, pointing to successful examples of involving farmers to raise the endangered Ko’ko birds (Guam rail).

The Council requested NOAA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide information on existing programs for green sea turtle nursery and rehabilitation to explore the potential for recovering the species.

Sanctuaries in the Pacific
In an “Island Voices” column published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser June 20, 2024, Council member Taotasi Archie Soliai, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, pointed out inaccuracies about the territory’s economy that were used to support closing U.S. waters in the central equatorial Pacific to commercial fishing. Contrary to claims published April 28, 2024, titled “American Samoa deserves to thrive as fishing shifts,” American Samoa’s economy relies heavily on the tuna fishing and processing industry, with StarKist Samoa providing significant employment and economic stability.

At the Council meeting, Soliai said, “The Council’s spring newsletter included a commentary on the current situation of the Biden Adminstration’s proposed sanctuaries called ‘Justice? Or Just Us?’ The Administration continues to promote equity, but fails to extend the same considerations to its Pacific Territories. The United States can’t talk about promoting domestic industries, fishing, marketing, exporting, importing and food security but fail to act on its Strategy in the Pacific.”

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 Assn. (Guam) (vice chair); Judith Guthertz, University of Guam (Guam); Pete Itibus, noncommercial fisher (CNMI); Shaelene Kamaka‘ala, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (Hawai‘i); Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i); and Gene Weaver, Tasi to Table (CNMI). 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.