“LOCAL CONTROL IS CRUCIAL FOR AMERICAN SAMOA”
American Samoa is unfortunately no stranger to federal bureaucracies trying to dictate how we manage our land and waters without consulting local officials. The United States and its territories were founded on the principle of federalism and a recognition that local control is most responsive to the unique needs of the widely different areas that make our nation great. As a member of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of nearly 80 Members focused on issues impacting rural America, I strongly support local control of lands, waters, and resources because I understand that locally led conservation is the best way to ensure both effective stewardship and economic benefit.
In September, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) unveiled the Commitment to America, four pillars that lay out Republican priorities for next Congress should the GOP be in the majority. One of these pillars – A Government That’s Accountable – encompasses the importance of local control.
In American Samoa, local control is of particular importance to our fishing industry. Our domestic industry has faced hurdles since the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) was first established by an Executive Order from President Bush in 2009 and then vastly expanded in 2014 by President Obama. The PRIMNM now encompasses 495,189 square miles – almost twice the size of Texas – that were previously among the most productive fishing grounds for the American tuna purse seine vessels. American Samoa government officials and residents were barely consulted before the Monument was established or expanded, and because of the PRIMNM designation, local fishermen were barred from fishing in waters that Samoans have been visiting for over a millennium.
Nearly 80% of American Samoa's economy depends on fishing, so the PRIMNM restrictions have had a major negative impact on our local economy. We have lost two out of three of our tuna canneries in the last decade, and our domestic fishing fleet has been forced to pay as much as $2 million per vessel annually to Pacific Island nations to access the tuna fishing grounds within their waters.
Additionally, since the tuna fishing around American Samoa is a surface fishery, it has zero impacts on the deep-sea benthic habitats and ecosystems that were the original intended focus for protection by the PRIMNM. This underlines the importance of local input before decisions are made in D.C. because if locals in American Samoa had been consulted, we could have come to a tailored approach that would have protected the PRIMNM while also allowing balanced and carefully regulated fishing. Instead, the one-sized-fits-all approach decided on in D.C., is stifling our domestic fishing industry while failing to effectively protect the highly migratory fish stocks since tuna do not recognize man-made boundaries.
A government that’s accountable depends on making decisions with local governments, not for them. By empowering American Samoa and other local communities to be more involved in decisions that will impact their economies, we can continue effective conservation practices to ensure healthy ecosystems while maintaining working lands and waters. I will continue fighting alongside my fellow Western Caucus Members for local control and an accountable federal government in Washington, D.C.
[Editor’s Note: While supporting the point of view put forth by Congresswoman Aumua Amata in the above LTE, Samoa News should point out that it finds the congresswoman’s mention of the issue under the spotlight of the GOP possibly gaining the majority in the next Congress incongruent with American Samoa’s status in Congress — we did not elect a Democrat, nor a Republican. We elected an American Samoan that has our best interests at heart, and has shown us over the last couple of years that we did not make a mistake. ra]