With climate change stressing the region, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has been advised by a top regional government official of the importance of keeping small fishing communities in mind in its upcoming decisions.
“You must be mindful of the decisions you make … so that the interests of small fishing communities are not disregarded,” Samoan Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga told the council in remarks during the opening of the council’s 195th meeting in Pago Pago, American Samoa on June 28.
Although the territory itself has a small carbon footprint, climate change puts the region at risk of widespread food and water insecurity, increased health risks, lack of access to social services and even forced displacements in some cases, he said.
Mauga’s comments came as the council considers a proposed national marine sanctuary that would impact the territory’s small fishing entities. The council received the sanctuary goals and objectives from National Marine Fisheries Service during the meeting and has until Dec. 23 to respond.
“The ocean and its marine resources have sustained our Fa’asamoa (Samoan lifestyle) for thousands of years,” Mauga said. “These abundant natural resources have provided food on our table and supported our people, especially during calamities.”
“Our community went back to farming and fishing when we closed our borders during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “The ocean is what has sustained us and will continue to do so for years to come.”
Mauga told the council that the territory requires more support and coordination for increased access to climate adaption strategies, mitigation data and knowledge. He also noted that, in addition to climate change, government actions threaten the tuna industry that sustains the local economy.
He referenced the proposed national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA) and the Effort Limit Areas for Purse Seine (ELAPS).
A National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) report, Mauga said, shows the percentage of retained catch for the local purse seiner fleet in the PRIA was as much as 25% historically, with fishing effort increasing over the past few years.
“Most, if not all, of the fish caught in these waters is landed in the territory,” he said.
Federal actions to create the proposed sanctuary were done without meaningful consultation and engagement of the American Samoa people, he added.
“Respect is a very important aspect to the Pacific people,” Mauga remarked, “and I call on our federal partners to show some respect – sit down with us, talk with us and not to us.”
Council chair John Gourley said the question is whether the administration and NOAA would seriously consider Mauga’s comments in the context of its own priorities supporting equity and environmental justice in underserved and underrepresented communities? Fishermen, cannery workers, local agencies, the governor and Congresswoman Amata Coleman Radewagen have all opposed the PRIA sanctuary proposal, Gourley said.