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Comments to NOAA on sanctuary expansion unanimous: all oppose

fili@samoanews.com

The more than 20 comments currently submitted to the federal government regarding the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposal to expand the current Fagatele Marine Sanctuary to include five additional sites, oppose the proposal.

The proposed Management Plan adds Larsen's Bay, waters around Swains Island and Muliava (also known as Rose Atoll) and some of the waters around Aunu'u and Tau islands to the sanctuary. It also changes the name of the sanctuary to the American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.

The comments were submitted through the federal regulatory website www.regulations.gov and while some comments to the proposals are short, other are lengthy. Some comments include names, while other comments are anonymous.

Deadline to submit comments is January 6, 2012.

The sanctuary expansion plan has been the subject of several emails to Samoa News complaining of the lack of media coverage on the issue.

One email said: "...there has been a disappointing and suspiciously small amount of much press coverage at the past two public meetings and before the next two meetings in Manu'a on Monday 21st November. It seems to be very obvious that they are trying to reduce the amount of public coverage and number of attendees at the meetings as much as possible."

In yesterday's edition of Samoa News, Nov. 26, a letter to the editor signed by Tuifaleamato R. A. Tagovailoa, Futiga resident - opposed to the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary's expansion plan notes: "We need to unite and petition against the expansion before the due date. If you are interested, please contact me @ 733-1670, or email me at tuifaleamato@yahoo.com." He also submitted a comment to the federal website opposing the sanctuary's plans.

COMMENTS SUBMITTED TO FEDERAL REGULATORY WEBSITE

"I strongly oppose the expansion of the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary," wrote Tuifaleamato R. A. Tagovailoa. "Our Samoan people are living in some difficult economic times due to unemployment from company shutdowns, reduced work hours, and businesses on the brink of collapsing."

"With little or no income to acquire variety of foods, our people will again, depend on our reefs for survival. Our Samoan way of life that dates back some 3, 000 years places great importance on fishing to subsidize our food intake," said Tuifaleamato. "No government power should deny our people from enjoying our Samoan traditional way of fishing and our way of life."

"In a true democratic society, a referendum should be the way to obtain the consent of the people for the expansion of the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary, not the village representatives, or just some village chiefs (matai)," said Tuifaleamato, who added that NOAA should have acquired a private consultant to conduct public scoping rather than its own staff.

Lawrence Iosia says that under American Samoa's treaty with the U.S., "we are entitled to culture take without restriction. Your sanctuary takes away my entitlement." He says that the areas proposed to be included in the sanctuary "are important culture areas that are not overfished."

"However, they do provide sustenance for our cultural activities. It also feeds my family without having to go far to catch fish," he said. "Move the sanctuary enclosure. It is not welcome as we the residents get[s] no benefits."

Local resident and businessman, Eo Mokoma, who has been fishing for over 40 years called for stopping this expansion, which he says "threatens our culture... and endangers the life of fishermen like myself."

"This expansion endangers our way of life in that it restricts our culture activities - we have never been banned from using our own waters to feed our families - but this is what this expansion represents," said Mokoma.

"I... note that this expansion proposal does not take into account marine and coastal spatial planning and it makes no sense in the areas stipulated. We fish these areas and they are not overfished," the fisherman added.

Aukuso Ah Ching says he and his family do not want this expansion. "We want to fish our reefs in pursuit of our happiness," said Ah Ching, and called for NOAA to provide justification to the people of American Samoa as to why the sanctuary should be expanded.

"Our fisheries are in good shape - why must you close it down in these [proposed] areas?" said Ah Ching, who noted that the National Marine Sanctuary has "not engaged in Marine and Coastal Spatial Planning. "You will bankrupt us by forcing us to buy imported fish because we cannot fish in nearby waters."

George Poysky III, who has been a sport fisherman for over 20 years, disagrees with the inclusion of Aunu'u in the sanctuary saying that the proposal is taking away from local people one of the main subsistence fishing grounds in American Samoa.

He also said NOAA hasn't taken into consideration that most of the population here is at subsistence living, which is especially true in the less populated areas. NOAA needs to take another look at this expansion, he said.

Several comments raised concerns with the two public hearings held on Tutuila saying they were not well publicized or well organized. There were also concerns about having to sign in during the meeting. Others felt the presentation about the proposed areas of inclusion was too complicated.



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