Press Release – Western Pacific Council Challenged by NOAA Prohibition on Commercial Fishing for Proposed Pacific Remote Islands Sanctuary (3 July 2023)

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HONOLULU (3 July 2023) Congresswoman Amata Radewagen from American Samoa expressed her deep concern regarding the lack of consultation with the U.S. territories affected by the NOAA proposed sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands. In a video message during the Council meeting last Wednesday, Congresswoman Radewagen stated her astonishment at the Administration’s failure to meaningfully consult and engage with the U.S. Pacific territories. She criticized the sudden announcement of this potentially drastic change via a tweet by the President.

Despite the authority granted by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Congresswoman highlighted the Council’s lack of involvement in the decision-making process. She emphasized that the Administration was pursuing the wrong policy and employing an inappropriate approach.

On June 23, the Council received the official sanctuary proposal, which requested the Council’s assistance in formulating fishing regulations. Currently, commercial fishing is permitted between 50-200 miles in parts of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM). However, NOAA’s first objective aims to extend the existing protections of the Monument to the entire U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), thereby prohibiting commercial fishing by U.S. fishermen in U.S. waters.

Council members expressed their opposition to the proposed prohibition on commercial fishing. For more than 30 years, American Samoa-based purse seiners and Honolulu-based longliners operated in the waters of the Pacific Remote Islands Area until the establishment of the PRIMNM in 2006. This new action will force U.S. purse seiners to fish farther away from Pago Pago Harbor and transport their catch to Mexico and Ecuador instead of the StarKist Samoa cannery, which serves as the backbone of American Samoa’s economy.

Archie Soliai, Director of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, stated that this federal action, coupled with NOAA’s rule requiring 558 purse seine days to be fished within the U.S. EEZ, is “the nail in the coffin” to the tuna industry in American Samoa. The Governor of American Samoa has expressed objection to the proposed rule and has notified NOAA of its intention to file a lawsuit.

Dr. Judi Guthertz, Guam Council member, strongly criticized the federal government for proposing the sanctuary despite the opposition from the people of American Samoa, Guam, and the CNMI. “Shame on the federal government” admonished Guthertz as she urged the process to restart with consultation and consensus building, highlighting the vigilant attention being paid to the situation by the islands’ fishermen, senators and leaders.

American Samoa Vice Chair William Sword expressed concern for the livelihoods of those working in the canneries, who rely on fishing to support their families. “Those cannery workers are poor and you want to take food off of their tables,” said Sword. He questioned the decision-making process, pointing out that advice is being taken from individuals who do not reside in American Samoa and will not be adversely affected by the proposed action.

Guam Council Vice Chair Manny Dueñas suggested the allocation of percentages for commercial, noncommercial and indigenous fishing, rather than a complete prohibition on fishing. Dueñas also raised questions about the true consideration of conserving resources asking, “Which generation is being prioritized, and is it for the people of the mainland or the Pacific?”

Kitty Simonds, Council Executive Director, criticized the contradiction between claiming to preserve cultural influences, while simultaneously abolishing fishing, which holds significant importance within the culture. “It’s obvious that the ocean belongs only to the federal government and not to its people, and we are merely spectators,” said Simonds.

The Council has until December 23 to respond to NOAA’s proposal. The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is expected to complete the process, including the Environmental Impact Statement, by August 2024, with implementation scheduled to occur before the upcoming elections.

The Council sent a comment letter to ONMS June 2, 2023, describing its objections to the proposed sanctuary:

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.

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