WPRFMC: US territories should be consulted in status review of giant clam species

fili@samoanews.com

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has requested a federal government entity to consult appropriate agencies in the US territories - including American Samoa - when conducting a status review of giant clam species.

Earlier this year in June, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a notice seeking public comments on the 90-day finding on a petition to list 10 species of giant clams as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

NMFS found that the petition did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing may be warranted for three petitioned giant clam species (Tridacna crocea, T. maxima, or T. noae).

In an Aug. 25th letter, the Council’s executive director, Kitty Simonds informed NMFS of its position on the seven clam species (Hippopus hippopus, H. porcellanus, T. costata, T. derasa, T. gigas, T. squamosa, and T. tevoroa) for which NMFS found that the petitioned action may be warranted and is initiating status reviews.

In general, Simonds says the Council believes that much of the available information regarding threats to giant clams are “speculative and over-generalized”, and do not provide sufficient evidence to support ESA listing for most of the species.

Further, the Council believes an ESA listing will do little towards the conservation of these species, given that the range of these giant clam species lies primarily outside of U.S. waters, and all species within the Tridacnidae family are listed under provisions of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Among the many issues covered by Simonds, include the US Pacific territories of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and Guam. She informed NFMS that each US Flag Pacific Island has regulations governing the harvest of giant clams.

For example, in “American Samoa no giant clam can be harvested if below 7 inches", she explained, and noted that commercial sale of clams must be whole with meat still attached to the shell, while giant clams for personal consumption must have meat attached to the shell until they reach the fishermen's home or place of consumption.

“These regulations do not apply to clams raised in captivity as long as the clam culturist has a valid aquaculture permit from the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources and can prove that the clam was raised in captivity,” Simonds wrote to Lisa Manning of the NMFS Office of Protected Resources.

The federal government has established extensive Marine National Monuments around Rose Atoll in American Samoa as well as CNMI and the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIAs), which prohibits all extractive activities including commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing.

Simonds pointed out that several of the giant clam species to be included in the NMFS’ status review occur in territories and some of these species are not known to occur naturally in waters surrounding the U.S. Flag Pacific Islands, but were introduced from other areas of the Pacific such as Palau.

For example, T. derasa was introduced into American Samoa in the mid-1980s from Palau, and T. gigas was similarly introduced into American Samoa in the early 1990s. Prior to introduction, T. derasa was not previously known to occur in American Samoa, and T. gigas was also not likely to have occurred historically in American Samoa due to the lack of fossil shell embedded in the fringing reefs.

In its review, Simonds suggests that NMFS should clearly distinguish between natural distributions of each species and areas outside of the natural distribution where certain species were intentionally introduced, especially in the U.S. Flag Pacific Islands where ESA provisions apply.

“Should NMFS proceed with proposed listing of any of the giant clam species, we request that the distinction between the natural and introduced distributions be considered in its rule-making related to prohibitions,” she said.

According to Simonds, the Council requests that NMFS, in the process of conducting the status review for the seven giant clam species, consult and work closely with the staff of Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program, who have wealth of data on giant clam species occurrence, clam densities, and impacts of climate change on giant clams in the Western and Central Pacific.

Additionally, NMFS should consult with other giant clam experts, as well as the appropriate agencies in American Samoa, CNMI and Guam. The Council has also offered its assistance.

Specific details of the NMFS' 90-day listing petition and public comments received so far can be viewed at <www.regulatios.gov>

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