DMWR still receiving reports of people removing sea cucumbers
Nearly a month after Governor Lolo M. Moliga signed a moratorium banning the removal of sea cucumbers in American Samoa and its Exclusive Economic Zone for a period of six months, violators are still being reported.
This is according to Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), the agency responsible for monitoring the program.
According to Matagi-Tofiga, cases are still being reported, with the most recent occurring in Leone around New Years Day.
“We have yet to issue any citations,” Matagi-Tofiga said over a telephone interview with Samoa News yesterday afternoon. She explained that when people are caught removing sea cucumbers, they are given a warning. “Afterwards, if they are caught in violation a second or third time, they will be cited,” she said.
When asked why people aren’t being cited on the spot, she said most of the time, when DMWR enforcement officers catch violators in the act, the culprits claim they aren’t aware of the moratorium. “That’s when we fill them in and let them know what’s going on,” Matagi-Tofiga said.
Lolo signed the moratorium on December 4, 2013.
Last month, DMWR employees confiscated over 1,000 sea cucumbers and returned them to sea. The culprits, thirteen men altogether, were from the western end of the island but were caught removing over 1,000 sea cucumbers from waters in the Onesosopo and Laulii area.
The load was packed into coolers and buckets, enough to fill the beds of two pick-up trucks.
Matagi-Tofiga said their goal is to educate people on the importance of sea cucumbers to our local reefs and the devastating effect their absence will cause.
According to the DMWR director, there is a noticeable shortage of sea cucumbers from Fagaalu to Fatu-ma-Futi and Gataivai, even Utulei.
In the meantime, Governor Lolo has notified the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Satele Galu Satele Sr. to activate the traditional network in villages, meaning villagers and mayors should question any outsiders fishing in their waters.
DMWR is conducting enforcement around the clock, and Police Commissioner William Haleck has been asked for his assistance, insofar as alerting the cops about the moratorium and informing them to be on the lookout for violators.
Sea cucumbers are big business in Asian markets where the market price can reach $200 per kilo. Matagi-Tofiga said her office has made contact with the Dept. of Port Administration, informing them to keep an eye out for outgoing shipments of sea cucumbers.
Anyone with information on the illegal removal of sea cucumbers is urged to contact DMWR at 633-4456.