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Final Fagatele Bay plan includes some changes

fili@samoanews.com

The final management plan for the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS) has seven changes made in response to concerns raised by the public and local and federal resource management agencies during the draft plan’s public comment period, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The final plan document, which consists of over 400 pages, was released the morning of June 22 on the FBNMS website. This follows a news release the day before from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saying that it anticipated issuing the final rule to implement the changes and associated regulations by late this month in the federal registry. The rule, the statement said, is expected to go into effect by year’s end. (See Background)

Expansion of the FBNMS called for including the Larsen Bay Unit, which  is composed of Fagalua and Fogama’a coves and is bordered by Futiga and Vaitogi villages. But there were several objections to naming this unit Larsen Bay.

In response, the federal agency says the name of the proposed unit “has been changed to Fagalua/ Fogama'a to indicate the cultural significance of this bay to the villages of Vaitogi, Futiga, and ili’ili.”

Another change allows additional methods of harvest at Fagalua/ Fogama’a by removing the ‘hook and-line only’ restriction, according to the final plan. According to NOAA, traditional fishing methods are permitted at Fagalua/Fogama’a, as well as all other proposed units.

There were two changes to the Swains Island unit: the first provides for enhancement of entrance channels to Swains island by revising the boundary of the Swains Unit to exclude the area around two existing channels.

The other change allows additional uses of marine resources caught within the Swains Unit boundary by removing the requirement to consume catch within the sanctuary or on the island.

The Swains changes were made in response to concerns, via public comment, that no assessment for a harbor on Swains Island was carried out and suggested the Sanctuary change boundaries from “all areas around Swains Island” to “all areas around Swains Island located north of 11.020'S Latitude”.

In response, NOAA says it has redrawn the boundaries of the Swains Island unit to exclude the existing channels and a small buffer zone around the channels to minimize socioeconomic impacts related to future maintenance and improvements.

“This change provides flexibility to dredge the access channels at a future time for the purpose of health and human safety, and bringing development and tourism to the island,” it says.

One change was made to the final plan for Aunu’u island unit: allowing for surface fishing and trolling within the Aunu’u Island unit research zone, which was originally proposed as a no-take area. This unit is divided into two zones. Zone A is the Multiple Use Zone, and would require any vessel operator to notify the sanctuary or its designee in the village of Aunu’u prior to each fishing trip. Zone B is the Research Zone.

Other changes made in the final plan:

•            Allowing certain types of treated effluent discharge from research vessels further than 12 nautical miles from the Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; and,

•            Allowing the take of marine plants, live shells (except giant clam), and crown-of-thorns starfish.

Expansion of FBNMS covers not only Fagatele, but Fagalua/Fogama'a coves, waters around Muliava also known as Rose Atoll, and additional waters around Swains Island, Aunu`u Island and Ta’u Island. It is now called the  National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa and covers about 14,376 square miles.

OTHER ISSUES

The final plan also includes NOAA’s reply to some of the comments received during the comment period and among the issues is the territory’s right of self-governance. The comment states that NOAA does not have authority to propose regulations within territorial waters, as the action violates federal laws and the territory’s right to  self-governance — under local law — pertaining to the authority of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources to “manage, protect, preserve and perpetuate" marine resources in the territory.

“The forefathers of American Samoa agreed for American Samoans to have full ownership of their land, shores, and natural resources in the Deed of Cession,” it says. (Samoa News notes this was pointed out by several local residents during the comment period.)

NOAA responded saying that it has great respect for American Samoa’s right to self-governance and for the right of American Samoans to use their family lands in traditional ways without interference from the federal government.

“For that reason, NOAA has expended a significant amount of effort and resources in consulting with officials of the American Samoa government, the Office of Samoan Affairs, Matai and local representatives, and the public,” the agency says.

Moreover, NOAA’s goal throughout the management plan review process has been to create a management structure for the sanctuary that complements and enhances the work of the Territory and local communities in protecting natural resources, while also being sensitive to and respectful of American Samoa’s unique and rich culture.

It says the National Marine Sanctuaries Act — which is a conservation law, not a public lands law — provides NOAA with the authority to designate marine areas as national marine sanctuaries and to issue regulations regarding the management of national marine sanctuaries. NOAA’s authority is consistent with the limitations set forth in the Ratification Act of 1929.

“Importantly, nothing in the proposal affects American Samoa’s right to self-governance, DMWR’s authority to manage marine resources in the Territory, or the ownership rights of American Samoans with respect to their lands,” the NOAA reply states.

Another issue raised during public hearings and the comment period was that the overall consultation process failed to fully engage and gain the trust of the village councils, affected communities and families. This includes the absence of a proper agreement between the Aunu’u village council and NOAA, specifically regarding the proposed zones around Aunu’u.

Similar concerns were expressed by chiefs of Manu’a with regard to the Ta’u Island unit. Public meetings were not held in the appropriate villages or were held at inconvenient times, limiting the participation of those most affected, the concern states.

In response, NOAA says the agency believes that the initial negative public comments were predominantly related to information awareness, as many of the public comments related to concerns not related to the management plan review, including multiple letters worried about NOAA taking control of ancestral lands — which is not part of the plan.

NOAA pointed out that the consultation process for the development of the draft plan was led by the Office of Samoan Affairs (OSA) and adhered to culturally appropriate protocols regarding community involvement and the village meeting processes.

While NOAA conducted at least 26 community meetings between February 2009 and April 2011 related to the Management Plan Review, many of the public remain uninformed, said NOAA.

Therefore, NOAA made a great effort to address misunderstandings and public concerns with the villages during the extended public comment period (January 6 – March 9, 2012), holding an additional six meetings.

NOAA also cited a public forum hosted by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni in January.

Concerns of the community were considered very seriously by NOAA as is evident from numerous changes in the proposed action, it says.

BACKGROUND

In regards to NOAA’s statement that “The rule is expected to go into effect by year’s end”, Samoa News reported on the press release last month, and noted that the rule had to be approved by Congress before it could go into effect, according to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, during the public hearing in January hosted by the congressman and cited by NOAA in their response to community comments.



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