“FINALLY - TO BE HEARD ..."
IT IS very encouraging to finally see some FONO members as well as the new Administration reinitiating the battle for thousands of acres of ocean that the past administration gave up for sanctuaries and a national monument; or to be more specific, that the local Department of Commerce division gave up in exchange for monies. At anytime that you give up an asset and receive money, you are selling it, and that is what happened. This was a sell out.
There were numerous meetings held together with fishermen, residents of many villages and staff members from different local and federal agencies. In every meeting, the majority always opposed the expansion of the sanctuary. The consensus was that we don’t have enough to give up so much.
But, our opinions fell on deaf ears, and the small group in favor of closing all these ocean areas from fishing won the battles and continued giving up fishing grounds under the premise that we have to preserve it for the future generations.
It did not matter to them that there was no threat from local fishermen of these areas. It also did not matter to them that there was already a 50-mile zone around all our islands closing off these areas to the larger boats or longliners. They stood firm with an extreme approach to close off areas from fishing whether they be commercial, recreational or subsistence fishing. In the end, a few concessions were made, but nothing to address the majority of the concerns, and the expansion of the sanctuary was pushed through the same way that the Rose Atoll monument initiative was shoved through. The public meetings were only a process and not necessarily to gather actual public opinions.
A sanctuary and a monument are not something that you can claim for the future generations, because a sanctuary and a monument are forever. It is irreversible if you pass it through. For example, 50 miles to the east of the Manu'a islands are closed off now for the monument. This entire area was already reserved for alias in Manu'a, and there was absolutely no threat from the larger vessels. Yet, they put another layer of protection against the alias or small boats. How can Manu'a develop a fishing fleet of small boats if they gave up a large part of their fishing grounds to the Rose Atoll monument? This was completely unnecessary. 12 miles around the island of no-take zone was more than enough, but the fishermen had no voice, and after what seemed to be a hopeless battle with Lelei Peau and his group, the monument was proclaimed and they took 50-miles around the Rose Atoll. It did not matter that in every meeting, there was an overwhelming percentage against the idea.
American Samoa had the opportunity to create conditions that were unique to American Samoa in consideration of our status and the significance of our ocean resources to the Samoan culture and people. Yet, those that were suppose to represent the American Samoan people's interests were more interested in collecting the monies and garnering more staff positions with salaries, and they readily agreed to whatever the federal government wanted.
In other locations, fishing quotas and designated fishing seasons are put in place if there are signs of overfishing so these alternatives help give time for the population of fish to grow and allow the fish some time when they are reproducing. Here, where many families depend on our fisheries and without a threat, they closed it completely.
During the discussions on the proposal to expand the sanctuary, it was revealed that there was a promise to have a certain percentage of the territorial waters as no-take areas to protect the coral reefs. Immediately, we thought of the injustice; after years and years of destroying thousands of hectares of reef with atomic bomb tests around the Pacific, we now had to pay for those recovery efforts to show the environmental community that the U.S. is a responsible nation to the environment.
Moreover, since there is a lot of resistance on all coastal (fishing communities) areas in the continent U.S., who has to meet the promised percentage? Us, here in American Samoa. Why do we have to pay for their debt? It did not matter that in all of these hundreds of years, the coral reef here in American Samoa is the healthiest, and there is not a threat from overfishing. But, someone somewhere needs to pay for the misdeeds of the past, and in this particular case, it is the fishermen of American Samoa.
There is a logical question from this though, instead of punishing the fishermen, why wasn't American Samoa used as a prime example of how preservation efforts can be done locally — where ocean resource management worked with all local villagers and fishermen involved? The resources are ours, and we are also very conscious of managing them for our future generations. We do not need to be protected from ourselves. Many others could learn from American Samoa’s practices and examples.
It is going to be difficult to recuperate what was sold out, but we should never give up our territorial waters and our rights to feed our families.
Again, we applaud the Fono and the new administration for representing our interests and restarting this fight; and we hope that all our colleagues and those affected, especially the fishermen, come out loud and clear that this was an act that was not only unjustified but one that is harmful to many that are trying to make a living to support families. The reasoning remains that every time we were asked, the answer was always that we appreciate the support of the federal government to protect our resources, but it was essential to leave the management of our resources to us locally. The people of American Samoa have been doing it for hundreds of years, and we can continue without anyone else getting the ownership of our waters.
Lets start again.
Carlos Sanchez & Christinna Lutu-Sanchez