To Obama: Marine monuments “have little to no conservation benefits”
Boundaries of the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument were “incongruently overlaid” with the Large Vessel Protected Area in waters of American Samoa, causing a loss of more than $200,000 per year to the American Samoa longline fleet, according to a Dec. 1 letter from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to US President Barack Obama.
The three-page letter, which also notes that American Samoa’s economy is dependent on fisheries, communicates the Council’s “continued concerns over the federal government’s inadequate implementation” of the Marianas Trench, Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments (MNMs), which were established in 2009 by President Bush and expanded in 2014 by Obama.
The Council says the establishment of the Rose Atoll MNM came with promises of co-management between two federal agencies and the American Samoa Government, but it “did not occur.” Instead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “superimposed Rose Atoll MNM area” with the National Marine Sanctuary, “creating several layers of duplicative federal management,” the letter says.
“We believe it is important to recognize that the boundaries of the Rose Atoll MNM were incongruently overlaid” with the Council’s LVPA, according to the letter.
“This amounted to the loss of approximately $240,000 per year to the American Samoa longline fleet which forced the Council to amend LVPA boundary regulations to make them congruent with the Rose Atoll MNM boundaries and to prevent further economic losses,” it says.
The letter further noted that promises to increase enforcement were common in the lead up to the monuments in 2008 and during the Pacific Remote Islands MNM expansion in 2014. “However, this is also not been realized,” the Council, said adding that the US Coast Guard and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement have not received additional funds or assets to increase patrols of monuments in the Western Pacific.
The Council went on to inform Obama that the Pacific Remote islands MNM expansion displaced sustainably managed US fishing vessels from US waters. For the US purse seine fleet, for example, this resulted in increased reliance on fishing in waters of Pacific Island countries.
Furthermore access to fish in waters of these island countries “comes at exorbitant cost — approximately $12,000 per fishing day.”
(Tri Marine International, which has a US purse seine fleet based in Pago Pago, and the San Diego based American Tunaboat Association, have voiced similar concerns over the past three years, pertaining to expanding boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands MNM, forcing the US fleet to fish in waters of Pacific island countries.)
The Council also says that although touted by marine monument advocates as a fishery management tool, “in reality monuments have little to no conservation benefits” for highly migratory fish stocks — e.g. tuna and billfish — and as such, cannot be included in any stock assessment evaluating the condition of these stocks in the Western Pacific region.
“Simply closing off vast areas of marine waters to pelagic fishing does nothing for highly mobile species when displaced fishing efforts are not addressed,” Council said.
“We are mystified why the White House believes removing US fishing vessels from US waters, without conservation benefits is good for US fisheries,” they said and also informs Obama that these actions “are having negative impacts on the American Samoa economy which is dependent on fish processing for US seafood markets as its main private sector industry.”
As a matter of fact, one of the two canneries in American Samoa has announced a December closure, said the Council referring to Tri Marine’s Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., which today closed down its canning operation indefinitely, laying off some 700 workers.
“We are very disappointed that these MNM’s have become nothing more than presidential legacy paper parks that offer little conservation benefits to marine resources and have provided no economic benefits to local communities,” the Council tells Obama.
In closing Council members wrote, “marine monuments are examples of federal overreach that are an affront to Pacific Island culture, traditions, and has threatened the economic stability” of the US territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The letter is signed by Council chairman Ed Ebisui Jr., and the four vice chairs — including Christina Lutu-Sanchez of American Samoa.
Based on Council information, Obama, who along with his family are arriving tonight in Honolulu for their annual end of the year Hawai’i vacation, has yet to respond to this letter.