Congresswoman Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa) is expressing concern regarding a perceived lack of consultation with the U.S. territories affected by a NOAA-proposed sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands.
In a video message during the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) on June 28, Radewagen stated her astonishment at the Biden administration’s failure to, she said, meaningfully consult and engage with the U.S. Pacific territories.
Despite the authority granted by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Congresswoman highlighted the Council’s lack of involvement in the decision-making process. She emphasized that the Administration was pursuing the wrong policy and employing an inappropriate approach.
The official sanctuary proposal, which the WPRFMC received on June 23, requested the Council’s assistance in formulating fishing regulations. Currently, commercial fishing is permitted between 50-200 miles in parts of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM).
However, NOAA aims to extend the existing protections of the monument to the entire U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), thereby prohibiting commercial fishing. Council members have expressed their opposition to the proposed commercial fishing prohibition.
For more than 30 years, American Samoa-based purse seiners and Honolulu-based longliners operated in the waters of the Pacific Remote Islands Area until the establishment of the PRIMNM in 2006.
“This new action will force U.S. purse seiners to fish farther away from Pago Pago Harbor and transport their catch to Mexico and Ecuador instead of the StarKist Samoa cannery, which serves as the backbone of American Samoa’s economy,” the Western Pacific Council said in a statement.
Archie Soliai, Director of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, said that the federal action, coupled with NOAA’s rule requiring 558 purse seine days to be fished within the U.S. EEZ, is “the nail in the coffin” to America Samoa’s tuna industry.
Also, the Governor of American Samoa, Lemanu Peleti Mauga, a Democrat, has expressed objection to the proposed rule and has notified NOAA of its intention to file a lawsuit.
Western Pacific Council member Dr. Judi Guthertz of Guam has strongly criticized the federal government for proposing the sanctuary despite the opposition from residents of not just her country, but American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“Shame on the federal government,” Guthertz said as she urged the process to restart with consultation and consensus building, highlighting the vigilant attention being paid to the situation by the islands’ fishermen, senators and leaders.
Vice Chair William Sword of American Samoa expressed concern for the livelihoods of those working in the canneries, who rely on fishing to support their families.
“Those cannery workers are poor, and you want to take food off of their tables,” Sword commented. He questioned the decision-making process, pointing out that advice is being taken from individuals who do not reside in American Samoa and would not be adversely affected by the proposed action.
Council Vice Chair Manny Dueñas of Guam suggested the allocation of percentages for commercial, noncommercial and indigenous fishing, rather than a complete prohibition on fishing. Dueñas also raised questions about the true consideration of conserving resources.
“Which generation is being prioritized,” he said, “and is it for the people of the mainland or the Pacific?”
Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds criticized the contradiction between claiming to preserve cultural influences, while simultaneously abolishing fishing, which holds significant importance within the culture.
“It’s obvious that the ocean belongs only to the federal government and not to its people, and we are merely spectators,” she said sarcastically.
The Council has until Dec. 23 to respond to NOAA’s proposal. The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is expected to complete the process, including the Environmental Impact Statement, by August 2024, with implementation scheduled to occur before the upcoming elections.
The Council sent a comment letter to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries describing its objections to the proposed sanctuary on June 2. The document can be seen at https://tinyurl.com/ONMSCommentLetter.