District Gov registers objection to including Rose Atoll in NMS extension
Manu’a District Governor Misaalefua J. Hudson, on behalf of the people of the Manu’a island group, has called on the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) asking them not to include Muliava, or Rose Atoll in the extension of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.
“The indigenous people of the Manu’a islands signed a petition to object to the extension of the Marine Sanctuary during the initial period this issue came up for comments. However, I believe that the American Samoa Government agency— Department of Commerce —did not consider our request,” Misaalefua wrote in an Apr. 8 two-page letter to NMFS Pacific Islands regional administrator Michael D. Tosatto.
“We believe that there were some efforts by the previous administration to paint a colorful picture that we all support the extension, therefore, our comments were not included in their report during the initial comment period,” he said.
Misaalefua’s letter was submitted to NMFS, which was seeking public comments on NMFS’s proposal to establish requirements for fishing in the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. The proposed rule is intended to implement fishery management measures consistent with Presidential Proclamations 8335, 8336, and 8337 that established the Monuments. Deadline to submit a comment was Apr. 8 and the proposed rule, among other things, prohibits commercial and non-commercial fishing around Rose Atoll.
In his letter, Misaalefua says that during last month’s Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s regular meeting held here in the territory, he made a personal appeal “to voice our indigenous Samoan people’s objection to the extension of the American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.”
As Manu’a District Governor, he said, “I am expressing the strong feeling of our indigenous people not to include Muliava Atoll - Rose Atoll - to the extension” of the marine sanctuary. He also provided what he says are comments from discussions he held with the chiefs and people of the Manu’a islands regarding Rose Atoll.
Muliava is the oldest island in the Samoa Archipelago and is culturally and spiritually connected to indigenous Samoans, and in particularly the people of Manua islands, he said.
He stated that when the President established Rose Atoll Monument, it was done “without adequate consultation with the people of American Samoa. Furthermore, the Monument established a 50 nautical miles boundary that prohibits commercial fishing.” (It was President Bush, in one of his last official acts in office, who established the Rose Atoll Monument.)
“We understand that the proposed rule to implement non-commercial fishing regulations for the Monument is currently open for public comment,” he said. “With regards to the prohibition on commercial fishing, we find it unnecessary and limiting to our economic well-being as a group of Pacific Islands" and a developing U.S. territory.
In addition there is already a Large Vessel Prohibiting Fishing Zone that limits the capacity of commercial fishing activities that can be conducted in the Monument.
“With respect to the proposed non-commercial fishing regulations, the proposed 12 nautical miles prohibited fishing zone does not allow the indigenous people of American Samoa to fish within the zone,” he said. “This is equivalent to federal government prohibiting religious communion.”
The letter pointed out that ‘Atu’ (or skipjack tuna) “is culturally important fish used in common ceremonies within our daily life.” Moreover, “oral tradition passed down for thousands of years demonstrates that Muliava was an important area to harvest Atu.”
“The establishment of the 12 nautical miles closed area is disgraceful to our natural birthright as indigenous Samoans and contrary to our demonstrated long-term use, management, and health of marine resources found at Muliava Atoll,” he said.
Based on the above considerations, “we the indigenous people of the territory of American Samoa, and in particular, the people of the Manu’a islands, request that the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council revisit the proposed 12 nm prohibited fishing zone around Muliava Atoll and take into account the conservation need for the closure as well as the effect this has on our cultural and religious rights as indigenous Samoans,” he said.
According to the proposed rule, the WPRFMC and NMFS is to review the 12 nm prohibition three years after it is implemented.
The letter concludes by calling for the federal government not to include Rose Atoll in the National Marine Sanctuary expansion.
Copies of the letter were to be sent to the governor’s office, WPRFMC, Fono leaders and the local Commerce Department.