Fishery council investments should be guided by local established priorities
While appreciative of funds for local fishery investments from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says such investments should be guided by local established priorities and not dictated by the Council.
In his written remarks read by Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, on Tuesday for the Council’s 171st meeting at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium, the governor said America Samoa’s current political status is neither sustainable nor economically secured.
Va’amua is one of the three American Samoa members on the Council.
The governor, in his remarks, acknowledged with gratitude the Council’s investments to grow the local fishing industry through the development of supporting infrastructure.
(Samoa News notes that some of the Council funded projects include the fish market at the Fagatogo Marketplace and the longline dock extension.)
According to the governor, the DMWR director is “working expeditiously and diligently” to complete Council funded projects. “As we attempt to fashion an effective future partnership, dedicated to enhance the value of added investments by the Council, we humbly ask that these investments be guided by locally established priorities and not by the dictates of the Council,” he said.
Lolo said the US Territories are required by the US National Marine Fisheries Service to prepare and submit for approval a Marine Management Conservation Plan (MMCP), which contains details of projects proposed to accomplish the goals and objectives of the MMCP, it should be used to guide the investment decisions of the Council.
While certain that the inherent objective of the Council is to maximize the returns of its investments, “I must say that some of these investments have generated no financial, economic, or social benefit for American Samoa,” he declared.
Lolo informed the Council that American Samoa plans to take its legal battle over the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in territorial waters all the way to the “highest court in the land” (see yesterday’s Samoa News for details.)
“The LVPA issue has far reaching implications for the people of American Samoa particularly on the principle of sovereignty, and the responsibility of the US to honor its promises inherent” in the Deeds of Cession, he said.
“In our Deeds of Cession, we bequeathed to the United States of America our lands and oceans for safekeeping and protection,” he said and noted that in the entire proceedings involving actions taken by NOAA to assume authority over the resources of the territory, “there was no indication that due processes were honored and recognized.”
Lolo reminded the audience that American Samoa’s political status remains an “unincorporated and unorganized” possession of the US and such designation reflects the absence of an organic act developed and approved by Congress to operationalize the government of America Samoa.
“It is becoming clear to us that our current political designation is neither sustainable nor economically secure given our desire to seek greater self-government,” Lolo said, adding that American Samoa appreciates very much the acknowledgment by US Interior Department recognizing that there is a multitude of issues pertaining to the territory “which need to be defined and clarified.”
“It reflects its recognition, that the United States has failed in its responsibility to establish a political organizational structure that would achieve the aspirations of the people of American Samoa as articulated in our Deeds of Cession,” he continued.
“This effort is ongoing, and special emphasis is placed on the thorough education of our people on our current political status and the future options available for their decision when the question is asked,” he explained. “While this process is running its course, it is our position that our sovereignty over our land and ocean resources expressed in our Deeds of Cession remains un-compromised.”
NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, Samuel Rauch III, expressed gratitude to the governor for his remarks, saying there aren’t many leaders who would take time to think deeply about fisheries issues, the way the governor has.
“We might disagree on things, but it is an indication how important the fisheries are to the territory and to the people, and I do appreciate the governor’s [contention] to that,” he said, and went on to speak about the “importance of fishing to the nation, whether it is the large scale industrial fisheries in Alaska, or the small fisheries in the Caribbean.”
“We deal with a huge variety of fisheries and many of those are evident here in [American] Samoa where you’ve got a mixture of perhaps the most important fishery in the United States, the tuna fisheries, coming through the world’s largest tuna cannery, right here,” he said and noted that he toured the cannery, describing it as a “fantastic facility.”
He noted the importance of fisheries to the “fabric of our communities”, saying it “defines who we are in many of our coastal communities.” He commended the Council system’s strength in providing a forum for an open honest debate, which has been “phenomenally successful across the country.”
He said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has repeatedly talked about the US seafood trade deficit and has asked NOAA for ways to address it.