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Coordinated Sociocultural Investigation of Pelagic Fishermen in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Progress Reports (PDF): FY 1999, FY 1998 (see below)

Project Overview
The primary objectives of this project are to:
  • determine the social dimensions of pelagic fishing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa;
  • develop social and demographic profiles of fishers in both populations;
  • describe activity systems of pelagic fishing in both locations and the relationship of pelagic fishing to other fishing activity and customary social behavior;
  • describe contemporary indigenous categories of fishing as they relate to fishing activity and the definitions being contemplated by the National Marine Fisheries Service; and
  • assess the potential impact of various management regimes that might be imposed by the governments and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on fishing activity.

Field methodologies will be developed in collaboration with University of Guam researchers working on a parallel study with the Guam fishing community (Project 2079, PI: Donald Rubinstein).

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Michael Hamnett, Director
Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)
University of Hawaii at Manoa
2424 Maile Way, Porteus 719
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
Phone (808) 956-7469
FAX (808) 956-2884
email: hamnett@hawaii.edu

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Principal Investigator: Michael P. Hamnett, UH, SSRI

Project Team: Craig Severance, Robert Franco, Cheryl Anderson

The two reports on the Socio-Cultural Implications of Pelagic Fisheries in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are in the final stages of completion. The reports should be finalized this summer as project team has the opportunity to focus specifically on polishing the final draft of the documents.

The project team collected data in 1996 and 1997 through interviews and surveys. Additional catch data and invoice data were provided by the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) and the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) of the Department of Land and Natural Resources in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The frequency of responses and descriptive statistics for the project have been analyzed and compared to the overarching questions of this study. Although the survey samples were low, the team gathered data from boats that represented two thirds of the pelagic fishery in American Samoa and almost one half of the known, frequent fishermen in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The two studies used similar methods and survey instruments to allow a comparison of the results. Once the analysis of each island jurisdiction is complete, it will be compared with the results from the study conducted in Guam, which will provide insight into the socio-economic aspects of fishing in the American Flag Pacific Islands.

Responses to current and perceived long-term impacts to the fishery indicate that the fishermen are concerned about the pelagic fishery. In both American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, threat from overfishing by longliners and other foreign fishing fleets was identified as a major future problem. The fishermen expressed deep interest in devising methods to protect their local fisheries, which provide economic benefit and subsistence to the fishermen in these islands. Changes in the fishery for American Samoa indicate an increase of albacore fishing. In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, there was general concern about the depletion of reef and bottom fisheries, particularly around Saipan. While the number of boats fishing the northern islands is small, fishermen and managers were concerned that any marked increase in commercial fishing could rapidly deplete stocks.

In May 1997, the project team returned to American Samoa to report preliminary results from the surveys. As a result of the meeting with local fishermen, DMWR conducted several additional meetings to discuss changes in the Magnuson Act and the effects on the local fisheries. Participation by local fishermen increased and they requested a conference with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Council in April 1998. The results of the American Samoa survey were shared with the Council and this information was used to support the development of laws for limited entry to the pelagic fishery.

The results of the data on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) survey can also be used to support management which will improve access for the local fishermen while restricting access to foreign fleets; however, meetings have not been conducted for revising management strategies in CNMI yet. The survey in CNMI questioned the importance of bottomfishing in addition to the questions about pelagic fish since this was an emerging issue for DFW management. Improved ships and gear capable of traveling to the northern islands enabled commercial fishermen to expand their ability to catch bottomfish. The potential for overexploiting these resources was identified as well. The main concern, however, is the impact from foreign fishing fleets in CNMI waters.

In the next couple of months, the focus of the project team will be on finalizing the reports. The information has been gathered and analyzed, and the project is in its final stages. Upon completion of the two reports, the project team will contact the researchers in Guam to discuss the results from their report. A comparative document will then be developed to determine overlapping sectors that should be considered in the management of three distinct fisheries within the jurisdiction of the United States. The projected completion of the comparative document, given the distance and workloads of all the researchers, is the summer of 1999.

Future Projects

The principal investigator has dovetailed this research with an initial overview of the impact of climate variability on the pelagic fisheries in the Pacific. With the strong El Niño event, the impact on pelagic fisheries seems to be in the shifting patterns of the fishery, the size of the catch, and changes in the species catch composition. Some efforts have been made at the South Pacific Commission to investigate the effects of the warm event. For the next round of funding for the Pelagic Fishing Research Program, the principal investigator plans to request $100,000 for a joint study of the impact to pelagic fisheries during El Nino and La Nina cycles conducted by the University of Hawaii and the South Pacific Commission, which will incorporate statistical modeling from oceanographic data and will examine implications on different fisheries, such as subsurface longline fishing.

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This page updated August 22, 2006