Press Release: American Samoa Governor Stresses Importance of Fisheries and Respect to the US Territory (28 June 2023)
UTULEI, AMERICAN SAMOA (28 June 2023) “You must be mindful of the decisions you make…so that the interests of small fishing communities are not disregarded” was the main message heard in the remarks of the Honorable Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who opened the 195th meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council yesterday in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
“The ocean and its marine resources have sustained our Fa‘asamoa for thousands of years. These abundant natural resources have provided food on our table and supported our people, especially during calamities,” noted the Governor. “Our community went back to farming and fishing when we closed our borders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ocean is what has sustained us and will continue to do so for years to come.”
However, he stressed the pressure that global climate change is putting on the islands, despite the territory’s small carbon footprint. “Our high vulnerability could lead to widespread food and water insecurity, increased health risks, lack of access to social services and even forced displacements in some cases,” said Governor Mauga. “Due to climate change, the ocean that has sustained us for millennia is now threatening our daily lives. We require more support and coordination for increased access to climate adaptation 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, referencing the proposed national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA) and the Effort Limit Areas for Purse Seine (ELAPS). He said a National Marine Fisheries Service report showed 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,” said Governor Mauga. “The misinformation that has been circulated by the proponents of this sanctuary is insulting and misconstrues the reality of the importance of these waters to our territory.”
The purse seine fleet is critical for the continued viability of the tuna industry, as it provides approximately 75% of the tuna needed for the StarKist Samoa cannery production.
The Governor emphasized what saddened him the most about the federal actions is that they have been done without meaningful consultation and engagement of the American Samoa people. “There is no equity and justice served when the people that these federal actions will impact have no say, and no voice,” he said. “Respect is a very important aspect to the Pacific people, and I call on our federal partners to show some respect – sit down with us, talk with us and not to us.”
“And the question is, will the Administration and NOAA seriously consider these comments in the context of its own priorities supporting Equity and Environmental Justice in underserved and underrepresented communities?” said Council Chair John Gourley.
Gourley went on to say fishermen, cannery employees, local agencies, the Governor and Congresswoman Radewagen have all demonstrated steadfast solidarity by opposing the PRIA sanctuary proposal.
“It’s going to be a long battle and we need to be ready,” added Council Vice Chair for American Samoa Will Sword. “This top-down approach is typical of Government overreach and flies in the face of democracy, government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
On Friday, the Council received the PRIA sanctuary goals and objectives from NOAA, which said that commercial fishing is prohibited. The Council will discuss the proposal at the meeting today at 1:30 p.m. and has until December 23 to respond. The 195th Council meeting continues through Thursday at the Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei, American Samoa. For more info, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (808) 522-8220.
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, the CNMI, Guam and Hawai‘i governors: John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (chair); Roger Dang, Fresh Island Fish Co. (Hawai‘i) (vice chair); Manny Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Will Sword, noncommercial fisherman/engineer (American Samoa) (vice chair); Judith Guthertz, University of Guam (Guam); Shaelene Kamaka‘ala, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (Hawai‘i); Matt Ramsey, Conservation International (Hawai‘i); and McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Dawn Chang, Hawai‘i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Sylvan Igisomar, CNMI Dept. of Lands & Natural Resources (vice chair); Chelsa Muña, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; and Archie Soliai, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Sarah Malloy (acting), NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman, U.S. State Dept.; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Michael Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.