Observer Program

American Samoa Observer Program

In April 2006, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Observer Program (Program) deployed the first two observers out of Pago Pago, American Samoa (AS). Observers provide coverage for 33 federally permitted longline fishing vessels that fish out of AS for Albacore Tuna. Since this is the first time that observers are being deployed out of AS the first course of action is to learn more about the fishery. Therefore the Program is using the first year as a time of "discovery" to learn more about this isolated territory of the United States and surrounding fishery.

The Program has focused its efforts on evaluating the level of interaction between protected species and longline fishing, fleet safety, and bycatch interactions. As of December 2006, 9 observed trips have been completed, yielding an overall coverage level of just over 10%. Observer collected data has demonstrated the diversity of species in AS that reflects the same species seen in the Hawaii program, plus a number of South Pacific species that are new to Hawaii trained observers. This data also shows the definitive need for more protected species related data to help develop a biological opinion that is specific to the resources of this region.

American Samoa

American Samoa, a group of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls located some 2600 miles south of Hawaii in the South Pacific, is an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the U.S. It includes the eastern Samoan islands of Tutuila, Aunu'u , Rose, the Three islands of Manu'a (Ta'u, Olosega and Ofu), and Swains Islands. Around 1000BC Proto-Polynesians established themselves in the islands, and their descendants are one of the few remaining Polynesian societies. The Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen sighted the Manu'a Islands in 1722. American Samoa has been a territory of the United States since April 17, 1900, when the High Chiefs of Tutuila signed the first of two Deeds of Cession for the islands to the U.S. (Congress ratified the Deeds in 1929.) Swains Islands, which is privately owned, came under U.S. administration in 1925.

A number of benefits to AS have come with the observer Program; the most significant being the increase in fleet safety. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety Detachment office in Pago Pago, is working very closely with the Program, and issued the first Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety stickers in over 4 years. This combined effort has increased the number of fishing vessels with safety examination stickers in this fishery by 66%. The Program is helping AS vessels to get safety stickers by assisting the USCG in certified vessel safety drills and instructions, as well as helping vessels correct documented deficiencies. Due to the remote location of AS, and limited resources, all vessel placements include vessel safety drills with the observers and the crews. Upon request from the Captain/Owner the Program also performs safety drills and training regardless of whether an observer is assigned the vessel.

Currently the observer coverage level in AS is about 10%, which is a result of Continuing Resolution to NOAA's budget. Once the Program achieves full funding the coverage rate in AS will be stepped up to 20%. Like the Hawaii program, AS observers are employed by MRAG Americas Inc. While observer "sea duties" between Hawaii and AS remain essentially unchanged the AS observers assist the AS NMFS Observer Coordinator with administrative and logistical duties of both the contractor and the NMFS. Even though the AS Program is new and was received with some skepticism, the AS fishing community has come to realize the many benefits that are associated with the presence of the Program, such as fleet safety, increased outreach and education, and steps toward developing a Fishery Management Plan that is specific to the community of American Samoa.