Is FBNMS expansion, name change a done deal?
There seems to be a misunderstanding among the territory’s leaders about the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary expansion — is it a done deal or is it still in process? Even which department umbrella it lies under is not clearly understood, as noted by remarks in the Senate last week.
The expansion comprises the five additional areas of Fagalua/Fogama’a, waters around Muliāva (also known as Rose Atoll), and additional waters around Swains Island, Aunu`u Island and Ta’u Island. These waters include some of the oldest and largest known corals in the world. It also included a name change — from Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary to National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.
The Office of Federal Register website, clearly implies the process is done and the expansion is a done deal, along with the name change:
“NOAA published a final rule to add five additional discrete geographical areas to the sanctuary and change the name of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS or sanctuary) to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS) on July 26, 2012 (77 FR 43942).
“NOAA also amended existing sanctuary regulations and applied these regulations to activities in the sanctuary. Pursuant to Section 304(b) of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (16 U.S.C. 1434(b)) the final regulations take effect after 45 days of continuous session of Congress beginning on July 26, 2012. Through this notice, NOAA is announcing the regulations became effective on October 15, 2012.”
In addition, Samoa News received a media alert from the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, yesterday via email. It advises the media that a meeting is to be held on Monday, Feb 11, 2013 at 9 a.m. inside the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center — rotunda-main room. (The new name, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, is used in the media alert.)
_The meeting is touted as “Engag_ing villages with opportunities to create strong livelihoods and communities within new sanctuary units in American Samoa”, and is being held to “share and work collaboratively with community leaders…”
Deputy Sec. of OSA, District Governors, County Chiefs, Village Mayors, Village Police, Director & Deputy Director of DOC, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa Superintendent & staff are listed as attendees.
However, during the confirmation hearing of the Director for the Department of Wildlife & Marine Resources, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega told the nominee, Dr. Ruth S. Matagi-Tofiga that he is very concerned with the proposed plan by the federal government to expand the national marine sanctuary because it limits the “use of our resources.” He called on the nominee to always keep this issue in mind during her tenure if she is fully confirmed by the Fono.
Matagi-Tofiga reminded senators later in the hearing that the national marine sanctuary comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce, not DMWR.
Rep. Larry Sanitoa also wrote a letter last month to NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco reiterating his comments in last November’s public hearing in Auasi, where he expressed concerns and objections to the panel of NOAA and FBNMS team regarding the questionable statutory right NOAA has in moving forward with their proposed plans on the identified sites. He states in his letter, “This is not in the best interest of the people of American Samoa.”
Samoa News asked Rep. Sanitoa, if he is aware that the expansion is a done deal? He replied that no one has officially informed the Fono of this fact.
Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin had requested the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in March last year “to review several important issues raised by the recent Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 32-13 regarding the proposed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expansion to Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.”
He later said in a press release that “Congress can ultimately nullify the final designation by introducing legislation with specific language to disapprove the new boundaries of the Sanctuary. In addition, it may also insert restrictive language in the annual Appropriations for the National Marine Sanctuaries program that would effectively disallow the use of funds to implement the proposed expansion at Fagatele Bay.”
To date, the congressman has not informed the Fono or the American Samoa community about the results of the review or if there was a review; nor has there been a statement about the expansion — if the resolution was passed.
The proposed changes garnered strong support from former Governor Togiola Tulafono and government agencies, such as the Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources and the Office of Samoan Affairs. Public opinions and comments were polarized, many noting the lack of public attendance during community meetings, the lack of public education on the proposed changes, and the lack of knowledge of village matai over the issue.
In his letter, Sanitoa referred to the American Samoa Code Annotated (ASCA) Title 24, Chapter 3 section 24.0304 establishing the Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources (DMWR), which is empowered to manage, protect, preserve and perpetuate the marine and wildlife resources in the Territory of American Samoa, and said the proposed expansion conflicts with Title 24, Ch. 03.
“The provisions in ASCA Title 24 clearly indicate the American Samoa Government (ASG) has a process in place with protective policies and the means to enforce federal regulations,” Sanitoa wrote. “The proposed expansion will impose and preempt ASG's right and attempts at self-governance and at best this plan is also a duplication of effort and a waste of money.”
Sanitoa explained that DMWR receives millions in funding every year for fisheries management, habitat protection, fisheries data collection, and most importantly coral reef monitoring. He pointed out that during the 32nd Legislative Session budget hearings, former DMWR Director Ufagafa Ray Tulafono shared his data and reports with the members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The report of data collected and analyzed by the marine scientists confirmed an increase and abundance in biomass for the major families of reef fishes over the last six years. “Basically this means we are not over fishing and our coral reef is in good shape,” Sanitoa wrote.
“Based on these reports and statements and for public record, DMWR strongly opposed the FBMNS expansion plans and the legislative members are in agreement.”
Furthermore, he added, “The American Samoa Government has very limited jurisdiction over the marine area (0-3 miles on all islands except Rose Atoll). Traditionally, within the Samoan culture, communities have ownership over the waterfront of their villages.
“DMWR in managing our marine resources, has worked together with the villages and the Office of Samoan Affairs, and has given a recent outstanding report on our marine resources in the Territory. This type of co-management partnership has proven very successful now and [in] years to come. If what ASG has in place is working adequately well, then leave it alone.”
Rhonda Annesley, editor of Samoa News contributed to this story.
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