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Eni cites deficiencies in NOAA expansion proposal

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni has cited deficiencies with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) draft proposal to expand the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary and called for NOAA to continue consultations and discussions with all stakeholders, because this is critical to the success of the proposal.

Besides changing the name of the sanctuary, NOAA’s proposed rule would effectively add five new sanctuary units consisting of more than 13,000 square miles of marine areas in the Territory, said Faleomavaega.

Deficiencies cited by Faleomavaega were outlined in a letter this week to NOAA Administrator,  Dr. Jane Lubchenco, with copies to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Lt. Governor Faoa Sunia, and members of the Fono.

First the Congressman thanked everyone who attended the town hall meeting he hosted Jan. 11 on the proposed rule where many people testified. Others also submitted written comments to the Congressman’s office.

“While there are other critical questions with potential legal and political ramifications, my concerns are mainly to do with the procedural requirements that Congress put in place to hold NOAA accountable,” Faleomavaega said and highlighted five key areas of concern with the proposal.

“First, the overall consultation process failed to fully engage and gain the trust of the village councils, affected communities and families. Acceptance of the proposal by the people is critical,” said Faleomavaega.

“Consultations and discussions with the local communities and resource users to consider their situations and needs are critical to its success,” he said. “Based on the comments and views expressed during the town hall meeting, there is a greater need to continue the consultation process.”

A second key area of concern, said Faleomavaega, is that NOAA did not provide clear evidence to justify its proposal, despite repeated requests to NOAA officials.

“It was never clearly articulated whether there was any problem to justify immediate federal intervention,” he said. “It seems unreasonable therefore to create another layer of management with more restrictions that could lead to economic paralysis and destabilize economic growth in the Territory.”

A third concern is that NOAA’s proposal to revise the terms of designation for the FBNMS did not fully comply with the statutory requirements for designation under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA).

“These statutory requirements are available to ensure accountability to the needs of the local communities, especially those that are directly affected,” he points out. “However, there is no comprehensive analysis of cost and benefits, resource assessment, and socio-economic assessment which would have provided a better picture to evaluate the full impact of the proposal.”

“The lack thereof of such critical assessment only increases the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the proposal, and made more glaring the potential risk to the local communities,” he said.

Another concern for the Congressman is that this proposal will put more regulatory burden on the affected communities. He said the proposal could also create a financial and social burden on many people and villages that traditionally fish in these marine areas. 

He pointed out that about 80% of American Samoa’s private sector depends on fishing.  Moreover, many families and individuals still depend on subsistence fishing.

“Finally, NOAA’s proposal would require better coordination with other federal agencies to avoid the overlapping of jurisdiction and responsibilities,” he said and hopes that NOAA would continue to consult and work together with the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and all other federal agencies to resolve any unintended consequences.

“In sum, while I appreciate the stated goals of this proposal, especially the preservation and protection of our marine resources, it is important nevertheless to gain the trust and support of our people,” he said.

“Consultations and discussions with all stakeholders are critical to the success of the proposal, and it is my hope therefore that NOAA will continue the consultation process,” he added.

Last week Faleomavaega asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) office for a review of the Senate Concurrent Resolution that calls on Faleomavaega to have a congressional review of all issues presented by the NOAA proposal.