WestPac against restricting fishing for Aunu’u

Calls the move ‘deceitful’

Among the concerns raised by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) over the expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS) is the inclusion of waters surrounding Aunu’u, which would restrict fishing there.

The federal government is proposing Aunu’u Island be divided into two zones: Zone A, where limited fishing would be allowed, and a Research Zone (Zone B), where all consumptive uses would be prohibited to provide a control area as a mechanism for research activities.

The council’s executive director Kitty M. Simonds, in a Dec. 29 letter to Gene Brighouse, Sanctuary Superintendent of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, voiced concerns on the Draft Management Plan (DMP)/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed expansion. (See yesterday’s Samoa News for further details)

In her letter, Simonds is particularly detailed about the council’s concerns with the federal government’s proposal for Aunu’u. 

“Establishing a no-take area off Aunu’u under the guise of ‘research zone’ is disingenuous, not only because it’s a clever way to name a no-take [area], but because the DMP/DEIS lacks a clear research plan for this area,” she said.

Furthermore, the DMP/DEIS states that “no-take zones, in conjunction with other actions, can allow ecosystems to achieve a natural balance.”

“The theory that restricting human use will achieve ecosystem balance has been discredited for many years. What’s clear is that the Aunu’u no-take area will further reduce available fishable areas for fishermen,” she said.

According to the executive director, a recent mapping study conducted by the local Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) showed significant fishing activities around Aunu’u and this is an important fishing ground for bottom fishermen when waters around Taputapu are not accessible.

Additionally, fishery data collected by DMWR showed annual landings of fish taken from the vicinity of Aunu’u ranging from 4,871 to 462,263 pounds caught by bottom-fishing, spear-fishing and mixed bottom-fishing and trolling methods.

“This information shows the contribution of Aunu’u as a critical fishing ground for the territory,” said Simonds. “Restricting fishing access will displace fishing efforts into smaller areas, which can in turn increase fishing pressure in other areas, reduce catches, increase operational costs and increase fishermen risk at sea.”

“Other then a few cursory statements, the DMP/DEIS fails to analyze, in any meaningful way, the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed sanctuary units effect on the existing future fisheries management regime of American Samoa,” she said.

Simonds suggested an in-depth analysis be conducted on how the proposed action will be integrated with DMWR’s community-based and no-take area programs.

“...restricting fishing in some areas can displace fishing to areas more dangerous such as those exposed to strong wind, waves, currents and cliffs,” she said and cited a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on Guam which indicated that “there was a statistically significant increase in the rate of fishermen drowning due to their displacement from traditional sheltered fishing grounds to more exposed waters”.

She also says that designating the “research zone” as a no-take area “is biased against fishing,” adding that it “controls only fishing and treats fishing as the sole perturbation affecting the reef community”.

“In reality, many factors contribute to resource conditions and individual effects are difficult to isolate,” she said. “For example, in the DMP/DEIS significant emphasis is placed on climate change impacts as noted elsewhere in the Pacific, devastating declines in coral cover caused parallel declines in fish biodiversity and abundance both in areas open to fishing and in no-take marine reserves.”

“In essence if climate change causes wide-scale damage to hermatypic corals, fish within a reserve may suffer just as equally as those outside of it,” she said. “To imply that sanctuary designation offers any protection from such macro events is not only wrong, but disingenuous.”

Furthermore, residents of American Samoa will need to be able to adapt to climate change, therefore flexibility in fishing areas should be maintained, and not locked up.

She also points out that it’s not clear why there would be a need to request permission to enter Zone A. “The indigenous people of American Samoa have free access to their waters. Requiring permission from a federal entity deviates from the cultural sensitivity aspect that FBNMS is trying to project,” she said.

Last month Gov. Togiola Tulafono explained on his radio program, that the proposed Aunu’u sanctuary “is a long strip from the coral reefs in front of Utumea and Alao [villages] and stretching out to the east side of Aunu’u, and is setside as an area to study the impact of fisheries outside and what happens if you keep the areas from being fished out and allowing a zone for fish to go in there to breed.”

Samoa News will report next week on other concerns raised by the Honolulu-based agency.


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