Press Release – Status Quo Preferable for Proposed Pacific Remote Islands Sanctuary (19 September 2023)
HONOLULU (19 September 2023) Existing fishing regulations which govern the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) may be sufficient for the proposed national marine sanctuary, said the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. At its meeting yesterday, the Council reviewed data on current fishing in the PRI and the multitude of fishing regulations that govern the area. It concluded today that the regulatory scheme in place may already satisfy the proposed goals and objectives presented by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS).
The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shared data with the Council that showed the impacts of existing fisheries are well below measurable and objective thresholds established by NOAA. These thresholds relate to various requirements in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Endangered Species Act and other applicable laws. “The current fishing effort in the PRI will not affect the habitat or species that a sanctuary may be concerned about – the data shows that,” said Taotasi Archie Soliai, Council vice chair from American Samoa.
Chair Taulapapa Will Sword, also from American Samoa, equated increasing regulations on the fisheries to a slow ratcheting that has constrained the fishery so much that it will end with a “death by a thousand cuts.” Sword emphasized the increases in fuel prices, the cost to fish in foreign EEZs, and changes in the local economy provide more than enough challenges for the U.S. longline and purse seine fisheries. The Chair futher quoted American Samoa Governor Lemanu’s favorite proverb, “Aua le naunau i le i‘a ae ia manumanu i le upega,” or “Don’t be so hardpressed on the catch, but be mindful of keeping the net safe and secured for another day.”
“The question is ‘who benefits from spatial closures?’” said Soliai. “China, Japan and Chinese Taipei. The results from these cumulative impacts are that U.S. purse seiners will reflag to other countries, vessels fishing further east in the Pacific will not land their catches in Pago Pago, and ultimately no fish for the cannery will lead to its shutdown.”
Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds noted, “The discussion so far has been on the process. The bigger picture is that the United States is managing U.S. fisheries in our region with monuments and sanctuaries. It is federal overreach.”
At a workshop last week, several government departments described economic impacts from a sanctuary, including the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) and the Department of Commerce. Officials highlighted that canneries are a major economic driver for the territory, with StarKist Samoa contributing more than $7 million in electric revenue in 2022. When the Chicken of the Sea cannery closed in 2009, ASPA took a hit of more than $5 million per year. This closure led to a loss of more than 2,000 jobs, causing a negative ripple effect throughout the local economy.
The Council also recognized that a goal of the proposed sanctuary to support cultural heritage and fishing is central to the culture of Pacific Island communities. “Fish is important to our cultures, we need to have it to practice it,” said Chair Sword. Vice Chair Soliai added there was a lot of emotion at the workshop and on a StarKist cannery tour, and that it was good for NOAA to “feel the heartbeat” of the people of American Samoa and “the emotion that poured out through song and tears.”
The Council will continue discussing the issue with the National Marine Fisheries Service and ONMS to determine if additional regulations may be necessary. After the current scoping phase concludes, ONMS will consider the data gathered and develop proposed sanctuary designation documents including a draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Council requested that ONMS provide an opportunity to review the Statement prior to public release to ensure that the alternatives are aligned with the Council’s fishing regulations.