Press Release – CNMI Governor Palacios Urges President Biden to Respect Pacific Island Communities at Fishery Management Council Meeting (28 March 2023)

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SAIPAN (28 March 2023) CNMI Governor Arnold Palacios opened the 194th meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council yesterday expressing his views on President Biden’s direction to the NOAA secretary of commerce to consider designating a national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Island Areas.

“It really is about communications, respect for each other, respect for what we represent, and respect for federal and regulatory agencies,” said Palacios. “Government policies have profound impacts on small communities. I am not opposed to conservation and management measures—that is the purpose of the Council. But we need to start talking, respecting and considering the consequences of our decisions.”

Archie Soliai, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources chair, said all Pacific Island cultures have respect in common. He stated that these federal actions “are done without consultation of our Pacific communities and are very disrespectful. Where is the environmental justice and equity that this administration has prioritized?” He quoted American Samoa Congresswoman Amata who has said this announcement equates to “conservation by confiscation without consultation.”

Council member Will Sword of American Samoa said that further closures of U.S. waters in the Pacific would be “the death knell” of the tuna industry that supports almost a third of the territory’s workforce.

The Council asked NOAA, and all other involved agencies, to consult with the U.S. Pacific Territories beyond the public comment opportunity on the proposed sanctuary. To better understand the Council’s role and responsibilities in the process, the Council will request the National Ocean Service give a presentation on the proposed sanctuary at its next meeting.

Governor Palacios also expressed apprehension over increasing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and increased tensions with China in the region. “I continue to support the efforts of the Council to address these concerns, which are efforts to protect the interests of the three U.S. Pacific Territories,” he said.

The Council approved a 3-year Marine Conservation Plan (MCP) for the CNMI, which outlines priorities for fishery infrastructure, capacity, research and development projects. The plan is important to manage and conserve the region’s unique marine ecosystems. The Council will ask Governor Palacios to provide the MCP to NOAA for final approval.

The Council plans to engage with local leaders and stakeholders from the northern islands of the CNMI on community-based fishing management plans to ensure adequate representation from those communities. The Council also asked NOAA to tailor its equity and environmental justice community engagement plans to each island in the CNMI.

On Monday, the Council held its first in-person Fishers Forum in the Mariana Islands since 2018, focusing on the history of bottomfishing, different fishing gears and methods, and the science and management of bottomfishing in the region. Renowned Saipan deep bottom fishers Lino Tenorio and Tony Guerrero gave a brief training session on their gear preparation and techniques used to catch bottomfish. They shared their knowledge on using environmental cues and ocean characteristics to determine the best time to fish for certain species.

Six partner government and private organizations joined the Council to share their conservation and management messages with approximately 60 community members. Attendees enjoyed a buffet dinner sponsored by Governor Palacios.

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. : Sarah Malloy (acting), NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (nonvoting): Colin Brinkman, U.S. Dept. of State; Brian Peck, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and RADM Mike Day, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District.

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