Gov. Lolo’s letter to DOI cites Trump’s “America First” policy as hope for our tuna industry
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is encouraged by US President Donald Trump’s “desire to put American first” and he hopes that this “applies to American Samoa and our tuna industry,” according to the governor’s letter to US Secretary of Interior, Ryan Z. Zinke.
Lolo was responding to Zinke’s separate letters earlier this year in May to the governors of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seeking input on national marine monuments in the Pacific - Rose Atoll in American Samoa, Pacific Remote Islands is the Pacific, Papahanaumokuakea in the Hawaiian islands, and the Marianas Trench in waters of the CNMI and Guam.
That same month, the Interior Department issued a public notice seeking public comments on land and marine monuments after Trump in late April this year, signed an executive order calling for the review of all monuments designated by previous US Presidents going back to 1996.
In his letter, Lolo informed Zinke that over 30% of US waters in the Pacific area is closed to fishing because of marine monuments. “The trend of closing areas to the US fishing fleet must be stopped and if possible reserved,” Lolo urged Zinke, who was also informed that the tuna industry accounts for nearly 80% of the local economy and until recently - there were two canneries that were the backbone of the territory’s economy.
Lolo explained that the closure of the Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. cannery last December layed off some 700 employees, equated to 5% increase in unemployment, and the “ripple effect of this closure” is still being felt in the territory.
He noted that the central reason for this closure is the lack of fish supplies and that in recent years marine monuments in the Pacific were created and later expanded - which greatly reduced fishing grounds in the Pacific.
A specific example, cited by Lolo, of how these monuments affect American Samoa is the Pacific Remote Islands monument which was expanded in 2014.
“These areas are traditional fishing grounds for U.S. flagged tuna vessels operating out of American Samoa and Hawaii,” said Lolo, who noted that it's his understanding that the US fishing industry was not even consulted before the expansion. “These unilateral decisions are hurting an already suffering industry.”
Lolo argued that these monuments are not established after a thorough scientific process, but instead were created through a Presidential designation. In addition to fishing restrictions because of national monuments, Lolo said the US fishing fleets must adhere to restrictions on fishing in the high seas and catch quotas.
“In recent years the US purse seine fishing fleet has fought for an economically reasonable South Pacific Tuna Treaty to gain access to foreign fishing grounds, but talks have proved difficult,” the governor explained. “To make matters worse we have been made aware that international groups are pushing harder to further restrict fishing on the high seas.”
“Foreign countries charge our boats $12,500 dollars a day to fish in their waters,” he said adding that the US National Marine Fisheries Service “has cut back our ability to fish on the high seas and with these monuments in place we struggle to even fish in our own backyard.”
Lolo also pointed to what he calls “prohibitive federal policies” that have “hampered our only industry.” For example, the federal mandated minimum wage, which contributed to the 2009 closure of COS Samoa Packing and Samoa Tuna Processors in 2016 “and continues to negatively impact our only remaining tuna processing company: StarKist.”
Furthermore, the withdrawal of federal incentives such as the IRC Section 936 and recently Section 30(A) Tax Credit along with the drastically watered down Headnote 3(a) “have further corroded our canneries' competitive advantage.”
“If the federal government wants the demise of the US tuna industry, then we are on that path. However, please realize that at this time the economy of American Samoa is tied to that fate,” the governor pointed out.
“In short, the trend of closing areas to the US fishing fleet must be curtailed,” he said. “While conservation is important it must be balanced with the economic needs of the Pacific Island Territories and Hawaii. If the US fishing industry is to survive in the Pacific, there must be ocean to fish.”
The governor is requesting the federal government that marine monuments designation in the Pacific be removed to allow US fleets to fish in these lucrative areas. “If total removal is not an option, then I ask that all fishing restrictions in all Marine National Monuments be removed,” Lolo wrote. “If neither of these options is available then the United States must find a way to compensate American Samoa for the use of its waters.”
He continued, “If we cannot benefit from the use of these waters then we must find another way to help our economy become more sustainable.”
The governor’s letter was dated June 7th and was publicly released last Friday through federal portal <www.regulations.gov> which was accepting public comments on monument designations until the closing date of July 10th.
GUAM AND CNMI
Also last Friday, the federal portal publicly released Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo’s July 5th letter to Zinke regarding the monuments in the Pacific.
Calvo’s letter focused on the Marianas Trench, saying that removal of the marine monument designation “will allow our island communities to access these marine resources for food security, sustain cultural fishing practices, and promote economic development opportunities now and for generations to come.”
In addition, Calvo said “we extend and advocate our continued support to American Samoa...for the removal of the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll fishing restrictions.”
“I trust the information provided will secure Guam' s position and the U.S. Territories of American Samoa and CNMI to improve the livelihood of our communities while sustaining effective management of our fisheries and ocean resources,” he said.
Calvo informed Zinke that he, along with the governors of American Samoa and CNMI, had in March this year wrote to US President Trump to remove fishing restrictions on marine monuments in the Pacific.
Samoa News has confirmed that CNMI Gov. Ralph D.G. Torres had also written a letter to Zinke but has been unable to obtain a copy through public online records.
CNMI Senate President Arnold I. Palacios, in a July 9th letter to Zinke, said he joins Gov. Torres in requesting to remove the Marianas Trench fishing prohibition and returning rights to the people of the Marianas archipelago.
Samoa News notes that there are thousands of comments from all over the Pacific region and the US in support of maintaing the marine monument designation for Rose Atoll, Marianas Trench and Pacific Remote Islands.