DOC-EDD manager Zodiacal supports the removal of fishing restrictions in marine monuments
Commerce Department’s Economic Development Division (DOC-EDD) supports the removal of fishing restrictions in marine national monuments, because it — among other things — jeopardizes the sustainability of the local cannery industry and will directly impact the local economy, says Alex Zodiacal, DOC- EDD manager.
Zodiacal made the statement in a June 20th comment letter, outlining the “ASG-DOC-EED position to remove fishing restrictions in the Marine National Monuments”. The letter was in response to a federal request for public comments following President Trump’s call for a review of the nation’s land and marine monuments.
Zodiacal’s comment letter was released late last week online through federal portal, regulations.gov, which is accepting public comments on the review, carried out by the US Interior Department, with July 10th deadline for accepting comments.
He provided details of data pertaining to the local economy, which is currently dependent upon the private sector — excluding the single industry i.e. tuna canneries for over 54 years — American Samoa Government and a long-term infusion of federal funds.
He notes that in 2016, the private sector and the local government employed 75% of the work force while the tuna cannery employed 14%. Additionally, unemployment rate of 10% and 11.2% were estimated for 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Zodiacal explained that ASG is a large part of the territory’s economy and provides a net injection of federal funds that represents about one-third to one-half of American Samoa's economic base.
“This means that the trend of declining real federal expenditures could be a drag on the American Samoa economy in the future,” he said, adding that the the territory's “narrow economic base is fragile, and has proven inadequate to meet the increasing demand for employment.”
“The primary sector directly employs over two-thirds of the total labor force, and has significant secondary — multiplier — effects,” he explained. “The indirect benefits are extremely important to all citizens of American Samoa.”
“In essence, the ASG is the backbone of the economy,” Zodiacal declared and points out that unlike other countries where the private sector plays the lead role, “American Samoa cannot afford to lose the services provided, and revenues generated by the ASG.”
Therefore, he said, “Downsizing ASG would have serious repercussions, the most critical being the loss of income, which would reverberate throughout the territory, particularly the secondary sector.”
“In short, the American Samoa economy cannot survive without a combination of the ASG, federal grants, and the tuna canning industry,” he said.
PACIFIC REMOTE ISLANDS MONUMENT
Zodiacal’s comment letter cited the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which he says a proposed expansion “would significantly and directly impacted” the local canneries in terms of employments, productions level, exports to the US mainland and might disrupt canneries operation due to the prohibition of purse seine and longline fishing, restriction of fishing activities and access for the US tuna fleet and local fisheries for sustainable development.”
Territorial leaders as well as the US purse seiner fleet has voiced identical concerns in the past, when former President Barack Obama expanded the PRIMNM without public imputs. The US purse seiner fleet, had argued that these are traditional fishing grounds, but US based scientist and environmentalist groups have supported the expansion.
(Samoa News notes that USDOI’s review includes the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa but was not part of Zodiacal’s comment letter.)
Zodiacal explained that the territory’s current economic prospects depend upon maintaining the viability of the tuna canning industry, local business sector and its exports to the mainland US market.
“The development of a culturally appropriate tourism industry that will protect the interests of the American Samoa people, the economy and the ecology of the island is a necessary step in the economic development of the territory,” he said. “Regional trade with other countries of the Pacific region could support the local tourism industry.”
He said the trend for economic development will continue to focus on expanding current private business activities, increasing outside investment with local participation, and diversifying the economy.
“Although our economy has provided an increasing standard of living for our people, it is presently limited in terms of economic opportunity and potential for growth,” he said. “On the other hand, our economic development has not yet had a devastating effect on our traditional cultural systems, values or the environment we cherish.”
According to Zodiacal, the challenge faced by the territory is to provide for economic expansion and diversification “without sacrificing the culture and environment, which is our life.”
For American Samoa, he says, the development of adequate, basic infrastructure is critical if there is to be any real chance for economic development in the future. Furthermore, the water systems, roads, sewers, communication systems, air and sea transportation not to mention schools and public health facilities are the foundation upon which a healthy economy is constructed, and without them, our efforts to fulfill our economic goals will surely fail.
“Whether we decide to develop our small indigenous businesses and industry or attempt to attract U.S. or foreign investors to the territory, success will be strongly determined by whether we have the infrastructure to support it,” he said.
“Without a reliable supply of water or power, the operation of business or industry is subject to unacceptable degrees of uncertainty, and uncertainty in these matters can be fatal to economic enterprise,” he said.
He says that American Samoa's economic objectives can only be achieved through increasing outside income from the federal government, the canneries, or other private exports or income receipts or foreign direct investment.
“Local market trades and services business growth is dependent upon this outside income,” he said. “New export income generation is the only effective method of diversifying or hedging against possible reduction in federal expenditures or cannery production.”
“Without doubt,” he said the DOC-EDD “position is strongly in support to remove fishing restrictions in the Marine National Monuments because it will jeopardize the sustainability of the local cannery industry and will directly impacted the local economy in terms of employment creation, revenue collections and local economic development efforts.”
“Such measures that will affect the cannery industry in American Samoa will undermine the local economy and quality of life for individuals and the community through economic development and sustainable management,” he concluded.