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Sustainable Fisheries Division
Going Fishing: American Samoa
Over the past 50 years the population of American Samoa has tripled and the Territory’s economy experienced rapid westernization. Fishing is still culturally important, though has lost some of the prominence it once held in Samoan traditional society, especially on the more-developed island of Tutuila. This is evidenced in part by the fact that small-scale, non-pelagic fish landings have decreased by nearly 80% since 1950.1
Still, non-commercial fishing is important in American Samoa. A 2006 study2 found that that 55% of those interviewed fished for subsistence and almost 10% considered themselves frequent subsistent fishermen. Only 12% said they sold their catch. In the Manu‘a Islands, where there are few food stores, residents continue to live largely traditional lifestyles and nearshore subsistence fishing remains important. In 2008, shoreline and boat-based fishermen harvested 71 kg of seafood per person in Manu‘a, a catch rate more than 50 times greater than American Samoa’s 2002 average of 1.3 kg per person.
Nearshore landings are not well quantified, because catch often goes unmonitored. Nearly 70 reef-associated fish and invertebrate species are consumed or sold in American Samoa. Inner reef take is comprised mostly of sea urchins, turbo snails, octopus, and lobster, while sea cucumbers, clams, crabs, and bluefin trevally dominate outer reef take. The most popular nearshore fishing methods are spear fishing, rod and reel, and traditional techniques.
Farther from shore, fishermen troll and longline for pelagic species and conduct bottomfish fishing. Each of these trips is typically underpinned by several motivations, such as personal and family consumption, sharing catch with family and friends, providing fish for cultural ceremonies, and sales.
Though commercialized to an extent now, the annual harvests of palolo worms and big-eye scad continue to have significant cultural importance. Catch from group harvests are distributed among family, village members, and village pastors and many American Samoans still abstain from selling palolo to insure an available stock for years to come. Due to the sporadic nature of mass spawning events, harvests fluctuate from year to year. In 2002, a particularly good year, 65,000 big-eye scad were harvested, accounting of a third of all landings.
Since relatively few tourists make their way to American Samoa, the charter fishery is very small. However, the Pago Pago Game Fishing Association hosted their 13th Annual Steinlager I‘a Lapo‘a Tournament in May 2012. Seventeen boats participated – including 11 from New Zealand and three from neighboring Samoa.
1American Samoa as a fishing community
2Kilarski, S., Klaus, D., Lipscomb, J., Matsoukas, K., Newton, R., and Nugent, A. 2006. Decision support for coral reef fisheries management: community input as a means of informing policy in American Samoa. University of California – Santa Barbara. Masters’ thesis.