Pros and Cons at the NOAA Public Scope Meeting in Am Samoa
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A Standing room only crowd attended Thursday's NOAA hearing on the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA) and while a few speakers supported the proposal for the sake of conservation, many speakers came out against it saying it would have a negative impact on the cannery and therefore the territory’s economy. Here is a sampling of the comments.
Fisherman and boat builder Maselino Ioane
Longtime fisherman and boat builder Maselino Ioane spoke in support of the proposal to designate submerged lands and waters surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a new national marine sanctuary at the public scoping meeting on Wednesday, May 224, 2023 at the Tauese PF Sunia Ocean Center.
A member of the alia association, Ioane said there were more than 50 alia boats back in the 80s but that number had dropped drastically when purse seiners started fishing in American Samoa fishing grounds. He said the methods used by these vessels harm not only the small fish but also big fishes and other marine life.
Ioane’s wife, Antonina, a longtime employee of StarKist Samoa, also spoke at the same public hearing but urged that expansion not happen in order to save her job and jobs of her coworkers and those who rely on the cannery.
Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jason Betham
Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Jason Betham speaking at the public scoping meeting on the proposed designation of a national marine sanctuary for the Pacific Remote Islands on Wednesday, May 224, 2023 at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center.
Betham said when there is no cannery in American Samoa to fill the containers that leave Pago Pago, shipping rates – which are already high due to our remote location – will increase even more. He said while the proposal talks about importance of the conserving these waters for the environment, we have to look at the overall impact. He said nowhere in the proposal and presentations does it talk about the impact it would have on the American Samoa people.
Referring to the Hawaii group that initiated the designation proposal, the Chamber leader added, “People in Hawaii, they live in Hawaii and they’ll stay there; they won’t be here to feel these affects and they won’t be here to comfort those who will lose their jobs because of actions like this all in the name of conservation.”
Tasi Mauga for expansion
Resident Tasi Mauga was one of the few people who spoke in support of the proposal to designate the Pacific Remote Islands as a new national marine sanctuary during a public scope meeting on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center in Utulei.
An advisor to the Senate President, Mauga said his statement was all his personal opinion and not of his employer. He explained that a resolution supporting the position taken by Governor Lemanu and Congresswoman Amata against the proposed expansion did not pass for several reasons.
One was that there was not enough time to confirm that American Samoa’s economy and the dependency on the local cannery will be negatively impacted by the expansion. He also pointed out that another piece of information needing confirmation was that the cannery was only getting less than 10% of fish from the areas affected by the proposed expansion.
He said he supports the sanctuary expansion for the preservation of the Samoan way of life and legacy.
StarKist Samoa Senior Manager of Operations Tufuga Faafoi Palepua
StarKist Samoa Senior Manager of Operations Tufuga Faafoi Palepua spoke on behalf of StarKist at the public scoping meeting on the proposed designation of a national marine sanctuary for the Pacific Remote Islands on Wednesday, May 224, 2023 at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center.
He said for the last 5 years, more than 80 percent of the fish supplied to StarKist Samoa is from US fishing vessels. The sanctuary proposal would force the vessels that supply StarKist with fish to spend more time in international waters and this means increased costs and a negative ripple effect to American Samoa’s economy and jobs. He said the US fishing fleets continue to face unfair competition because of the presence of a highly subsidized Chinese fishing fleet.
Harvestable waters in the American EEZ provide relief from this unfair competition, because Chinese vessels cannot fish in these waters. However closing off harvestable waters in the EEZ through the expansion of the marine sanctuary forces American vessels to increasingly compete alongside these subsidized Chinese vessels.
Tufuga revealed that StarKist has a petition that will be submitted by June 2nd signed by all StarKist employees asking the federal government not to go through with the expansion.
National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Atuatasi Lelei Peau
National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa Superintendent Atuatasi Lelei Peau did a good job as moderator controlling while allowing all those who signed up to speak for and against a sanctuary expansion were given the opportunity to comment. This was for a public scoping meeting on a proposal to designate submerged lands and waters surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a new national marine sanctuary. The well-attended meeting was held on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center.
Purse seiner and longliner fishing industry representative Frank Barron