WesPac calls on NOAA to fully engage over proposed sanctuary designation
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) has called on the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to ensure that the “Governors of the U.S Pacific Territories are consulted with” as the National Marine Sanctuary designation process begins for the Pacific Remote Island Areas.
The call is outlined in the Council’s letter last month signed by Council chairman, John Gourley and Executive Director, Kitty M. Simonds to NOAA Administrator, Richard W. Spinrad, who was informed that the Council at its 194th Meeting in March this year, discussed this particular issue.
In the letter, the Council requests that NOAA, and all other involved agencies, consult with the U.S. Pacific Territories beyond the public comment opportunity on this proposed sanctuary.
The Council also requests that the National Ocean Service (NOS) provide a presentation to the Council on the proposed sanctuary, so that the Council may ascertain its responsibilities and role in the process, as outlined by the federal National Marine Sanctuaries Act.
“The Council is concerned that the proposed sanctuary has not fully appreciated the needs of the U.S. Pacific Territories or the issues that they already face,” Gourley and Simonds pointed out.
They explained that the U.S. Pacific Islands and their communities already assume a disproportionate burden, nearly meeting the '30 by 30’ aspiration under the Biden Administration's America the Beautiful Initiative through closures of 53% of US. Pacific Island waters through Marine National Monuments.
The Council notes that further restricting fisheries that support the underserved territories may be in direct conflict with Equity and Environmental Justice as outlined in Biden’s Executive Orders 13985 and 14008.
“Nearly one-third of the American Samoa workforce depends on U.S. tuna fisheries that are already restricted by domestic and international regulations,” the letter points out.
Further restricting U.S. fishery presence counters objectives outlined in the Biden Administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy, because sustainable fisheries are a shared economic driver among Pacific Island nations.
In conclusion, the Council asked NOAA to ensure that governors of the U.S. Pacific Territories are consulted with as the sanctuary designation process begins.
As previously reported by Samoa News, Gov. Lemanu P. S. Mauga wrote to U.S President Joe Biden to reiterate the territory’s opposition to the expansion of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM).
“The restrictions on commercial fishing that will result from this designation will cripple the single largest private industry in our economy,” the governor wrote in his Mar. 30 letter. And he implored Biden, “to please take into account the serious cultural and financial impacts that this proposed action will have on the people of American Samoa.”
And the governors of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — in a joint letter to Biden in March — noted that they are “alarmed and concerned” over the planned designation, closing out fishing grounds.
Yesterday a new study was released that purports to show, despite claims otherwise, industrial fishing is not likely to be impacted by expanded protections around the Pacific Remote Islands. (Read press release in its entirety elsewhere in this issue.)
Federal fisheries officials recently held their first public meetings on the proposal across Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands, where they heard mixed feedback from participants.
Although WesPac has not commented on this at press time, WesPac Executive Director Kitty Simonds and agency staff attended the May 11 scoping meeting at the University of Hawaii Manoa for the sanctuary but did not testify.
After the meeting, Simonds said the agency’s goal “is to continue commercial fishing.”
“We agree with all of the ideals of the nomination and the sanctuary process,” Simonds said. “We’d just like to see them include commercial fishing, non-commercial fishing. That’s really our bottom line.”
As published in Civil Beat, Mark Fitchett, a WesPac pelagic fisheries ecosystem scientist, said after that meeting that the U.S. American Samoa-based purse seine fleet rarely accesses the waters poised for new protection.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not important,” he added.
Talks among nations participating in the Western and Central Pacific fisheries Commission could potentially limit fishing on the high seas and “are making these waters within jurisdictions more important,” he said.
Climate change could further drive tuna to be more prevalent in the central Pacific, near the current monument and proposed sanctuary, Fitchett said, “and those waters are going to become more and more important.”
The last of those scoping meetings will be held today (Wednesday) in American Samoa.
The public is reminded that NOAA is seeking public comments regarding this proposed designation. And the public is invited and encouraged to participate in the public scoping meeting, which will take place on Wednesday, May 24 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tauese P. F. Sunia Ocean Center. There is an option to attend virtually as well. Register here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/5847053733658211157
Comments may be made in-person, written, or submitted online via regulations.gov through June 2.
Input received will assist NOAA with the preparation and release of draft designation documents, and in formulating alternatives for the draft environmental impact statement.
For more information or to register to attend the public scoping meeting virtually, please visit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov/pacific-remote-islands/
And the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce is encouraging businesses to attend and voice their views during this meeting. The proposed expansion “will effectively kill our fishing industry resulting in the loss of jobs, increased prices and the collapse of our local economy,” according to a Chamber advertisement about the meeting.