Fishing Impacts
American Samoa

school of fish swimming
Fishing is an important aspect of the "blue economy" but overfishing can impact fish populations and have cascading effects throughout the ecosystem. Credit: Wendy Cover, NMSAS, NOAA

Why is it a concern?

Fishing and gleaning activities are the primary way that people in American Samoa directly affect marine resources.  In addition to impacting fish populations, fishing can have cascading effects throughout the ecosystem, as well as negative effects on corals through destructive fishing practices.

Overfishing on coral reefs has depleted important fish species, with cascading impacts that increase algae and reduce coral cover, changing the character of the reef and its ability to recover from other impacts.  Worldwide, there is heavy pressure on fisheries, and assessments have demonstrated declines in reef fish abundance across the Pacific.  American Samoa is part of the larger pattern; research indicates that local reefs have only 1/3 of the fish biomass seen in less-impacted areas. There are few large fish, and bumphead parrotfish have not been seen in years.  Fishing restrictions and no-take areas can be effective methods to reverse these trends.

Destructive fishing methods are also a concern for sanctuary resources. Evidence suggests that fishing with explosives — an unsustainable form of fishing that is inexpensive, quick, and efficient, as well as highly destructive — has occurred in Fagatele Bay.  Other destructive fishing methods include the use of bleach, cyanide, or the local plant toxin ‘avasu to stun or kill fish.  These methods, of course also harm corals and other reef creatures.  All methods are illegal but there is some evidence that they have been used in Fagatele in the past.

Anchoring boats within fishing areas can also cause mechanical damage to reefs.  Evidence of anchor damage, in the form of numerous flipped tabletop corals, was found on towboard surveys along the SW Aunu'u bank and Nafanua bank in 2014. 

With the establishment of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa in October of 2012 and the initiation of new NOAA Fisheries regulations for the Muliava Management Area / Rose Atoll National Marine Monument in 2013, protection of fish populations increased through the creation of two no-take marine reserves. Many no-take marine reserves (that have high compliance with regulations) see increases in the number and size of fishes (biomass) over several years following protection.

Overview of Research

The American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary is actively seeking research partners to conduct work connected to Fishing Impacts as a sentinel issue.

Project Name PI and contacts Links

ASRAMP (American Samoa Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program)

NOAA/NMFS/Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Honolulu. Rusty Brainaird, Division Chief.
(Fish and benthic surveys; baited underwater stations)

Territorial Monitoring Program and Creel surveys

Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, American Samoa. Domingo Ochavillo, Fisheries Chief.


Science Needs and Questions

The best available science is used by Sanctuary scientists and managers working to address priority resource conservation and management issues. As priorities change and new issues emerge, each Sanctuary develops new science needs and questions and works with partners to address them.

  • What is the level of compliance with newly-established regulations?
  • What is the status of bottomfish populations around Aunu'u and the territory?
  • What is the status of destructive fishing practices?
  • Where are essential habitats for spawning and juvenile recruitment of fish?
  • What are the temporal and spatial patterns of spawning and juvenile recruitment?
  • What are the small-scale connectivity patterns within and between sanctuary units?

Education and Outreach Material

Please refer to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa website to learn more
about education and outreach materials.


Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2008. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report 2008. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD. 42 pp.

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2011. American Somoa Science Needs, Resource Threats U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD, Accessed: 7/22/2014