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President Trump expected to issue decision next month on 27 monuments

Rose Atoll Marine National Monument [photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service]
American Samoa's Rose Atoll is one of them

Reducing the size of the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in America Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, as well as lifting commercial fishing restrictions on these two ocean monuments, have been recommended by 24 members of Congress in a letter to US President Donald Trump.

Congresswoman Aumua Amata, along with 23 of her colleagues from the Congressional Western Caucus signed a Nov. 9th letter, which applauds Trump on his call in April this year for a complete review by the US Interior Department of the nation’s 22 land and 5 ocean monuments. The majority of the marine monuments are in the Pacific.

The public comment period ended several weeks ago on Trump’s call for review.

According to congressional members, “Powerfully vocal special-interest groups have been undeniably effective in mobilizing their contributors to flood public comment periods in favor of these monuments under review.”

They also note that “many average Joes and blue collar folks” are not familiar with the comment period and pending deadlines.

“Their voices should not be forgotten or ignored because of a bureaucratic process established by the federal government.”

Thousands of comments were submitted during the comment period, regarding Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote monuments, but a vast majority of them didn’t come from American Samoa. The majority of the commenters support keeping the current boundaries of the two monuments, despite objections from ASG and fishing industry officials.

For the Rose Atoll monument, the Congressional letter says all commercial fishing is prohibited there. It recalled what Aumua said earlier this year in May: “We are simply looking to remove the fishing restrictions on the American Samoa fleet for the migratory fish who travel through the monuments.”

Additionally, “our fishermen are the most responsible and regulated in the world... as it stands currently, these fish swim through the monuments and are then caught by nations with little to no environmental regulations... that is not helping the sustainability for the future.”

The congressional members recommend a “reduction of the size... so that the monument is ‘confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,’ as well as repealing all fishing restrictions via executive order and returning management of the atoll to American Samoa.”

The same recommendation was made for the Pacific Remote Islands Monument. In addition to repealing all fishing restrictions, congressional members recommend to repeal “unnecessary energy” restriction for this area and return management back to regional fishery management councils.

The group refers to a March 2017 letter from Aumua and US House Committee on Natural Resources chairman, US Rep. Rob Bishop, informing Trump that marine monuments in the US Pacific islands “resulted in the US purse seiner fleet losing access to historical fishing grounds” in this monument area.

As previously reported by Samoa News, Bishop and Aumua had signed a Mar. 7, 2017 letter asking Trump to remove all marine monument fishing prohibitions and reinstate fisheries management in accordance with federal law.

They said prohibitions on commercial fishing in waters around marine monuments have impacted US fishing fleets as well as one cannery operation in Pago Pago. (See Samoa News Mar. 8, 2017 edition for details).

US news outlets have reported that Trump is expected to make a decision next month on the 27 land and marine monuments after receiving in September this year the final report summarizing findings of the review of these monuments.

The Washington Post obtained a copy of US Secretary of Interior, Ryan K. Zinke’s memorandum to Trump, and released it online at the time as part of a national story. The memo notes that American Samoa’s economy is heavily dependent on tuna fish production, and many monument designations have contributed to ongoing threats to the viability of the industry.

Zinke recommends that the Rose monument proclamation be amended or the boundary be revised to “allow commercial fishing and ensure the practice is managed” under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

An identical recommendation is also made for the Pacific Remote Islands Monument, with Zinke saying that prior to the monument designation, there were Hawaiian and American Samoan longliners and purse seiner vessels operating there.

“Indirect benefits of the purse seine fishery is important to the economy of American Samoa, which is heavily dependent on these vessels,” the memo says.

American Samoa government and traditional leaders along with fishing and cannery officials have made identical arguments, saying that most of the US fleet have moved to fishing areas farther away from the territory, home to US canneries, because of fishing restrictions in certain areas of the Pacific Remote Island Monument.