Press Release – “Killing US fishing interests and the American Samoa economy is morally wrong and unconstitutional” (23 October 2023)

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— Western Pacific Council Chair Sword makes impassioned plea for assistance on proposed PRI national marine sanctuary at national meeting of the regional fishery management councils

HONOLULU (23 October 2023) “We cannot survive the current policies and actions by the DOC, especially if the [Pacific Remote Islands, PRI] sanctuary is implemented,” said Western Pacific Fishery Management Council Chair Will Sword at the Oct. 11-13, 2023, Council Coordination Committee (CCC) meeting in Alexandria, Virginia. In a discussion on the process for establishing fishing regulations in national marine sanctuaries, Sword depicted the plight of American Samoa in the face of a proposed sanctuary in the PRI.

“This administration’s EOs [Executive Orders] on equity and environmental justice goals are rubbish if this sanctuary proposal becomes a reality for there will be no commercial fishing,” said Sword. “Without our cannery, we become useless to this great country; our underserved fishing community suffers, for fishing is our culture!”

American Samoa’s economy is solely dependent upon a tuna cannery located in Pago Pago which accounts for 99.5% of exports and 84% of the territory’s private employment. The cannery relies on the fish caught in the PRI by the U.S. longline and purse seine fleets and any loss of the fish from this area is expected to have significant impacts on American Samoa.

At the CCC meeting, John Armor from the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) described the existing fishing regulatory language and showed a flow-diagram outlining what NOAA considers to be the Council’s role in decision-making. The CCC questioned the compressed timeline for sanctuary development compared to past practice and suggested that ONMS consultation should occur earlier and more often in the process.

The proposed PRI sanctuary was in response to President Biden’s direction to the Secretary of Commerce on March 21, 2023, to explore its establishment as part of his administration’s goal to conserve and restore at least 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. A National Marine Fisheries Service data analysis presented at a recent workshop in American Samoa demonstrated there is no added conservation benefit of the proposed sanctuary.

In his remarks, Western Pacific Council Chair Sword noted, “This top-down approach to regulating fisheries is wrong. It is completely opposite of the [Magnuson-Stevens Act] process where the bottom-up approach is mandatory.”

The CCC meeting brings together representatives from all eight regional fishery management councils and NOAA to discuss issues of relevance to all councils, including issues related to the implementation of the MSA. More information on the CCC is available at www.fisherycouncils.org. For more information on fishing regulations and the proposed sanctuary, visit www.wpcouncil.org/marine-spatial-management.

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