Lolo requests face-to-face about NOAA proposal
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has raised objections with the federal government over a proposal that would list as threatened and endangered certain coral species found in the waters of American Samoa.
He has also called for a face-to-face meeting with federal officials involved in this proposed action prior to making any final decision. According to the federal portal [www.regulations.gov], Apr. 6 was the last day to accept comments on the proposal.
The governor's objections and his call for a meeting were outlined in a letter late last month to Rebecca Blank, the acting secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its offices.
Lolo said he was writing to “object” to NOAA Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) proposed listing of 66 coral species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was announced in a notice last December.
Of the total number of coral species proposed, 43 would be listed as threatened and three would be listed as endangered in the waters of American Samoa, said Lolo, who noted that after careful examination of available materials and communication with various scientists “we are raising... issues against” the proposal.
First, he said, “identities of the listed species are in doubt” and “we have documentation that two of the hard coral species in American Samoa that have been proposed to be listed as endangered have been misidentified.”
He also says the proposed list of threatened species “needs additional scrutiny” and correct species identification is a basic requirement under ESA. “At the very least, we need to have a thorough survey of coral species to be conducted by other experts,” Lolo said.
The governor also pointed out that there is “an acknowledged severe lack or... very limited scientific data” on the proposed hard corals and these data are critical in establishing whether populations would decline or increase in the future.
Gov. Lolo also voiced concern over the voting process conducted by the Biological Review Team, saying that the process “seems to be highly subjective” and the voting results might have stemmed from the individual scientists perception of extinction rather than solid scientific data.
Furthermore, some scientists have claimed that the determination tool developed by NOAA’s Fisheries Service “is biased towards” listing the proposed species.
According to the governor, the primary threats identified for the coral species are impacts from climate change, namely ocean warming and acidification. Therefore, “ESA is not an appropriate tool to address global climate change and ocean acidification impact,” he stated.
“We also think that the process has been inconsistent with other cases such as the unwarranted listing decision for the bump-head parrotfish,” said Lolo. “We think that the process has been rushed given the paucity of scientific data and high taxonomic uncertainties.”
CULTURE & PUBLIC HEARINGS
The governor said the proposed listing “directly conflicts with the cultural needs and practices of American Samoa.”
Additionally, the listing “has the potential to negatively impact local communities, traditional practices, and village subsistence fishing such as ‘palolo’ and ‘akule’ season.”
“Utilizing the ESA for such a broad application is a misuse of this powerful law, especially when the cultural and social impacts to local communities cannot be legally considered,” he wrote.
Lolo raised concerns with the fact that only one public hearing was held in American Samoa on this important issue, which impacts all of the territory, especially with the named corals in territorial waters on the listing.
“While the law requires only one public hearing, given the magnitude of this proposal, it is totally inappropriate that the people of American Samoa have not been afforded the opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate,” he said.
He said this is especially true for residents of the Manu’a Island group. (The sole public hearing was held on Tutuila in February this year and there was some very strong opposition voiced to the proposal.)
The governor also pointed out that it was clear from testimony provided during the public hearing that the “public strongly opposes” the proposal and ASG “has great concerns for the science used to formulate” the proposed listing.
“Furthermore, most people within village communities do not have access to a computer or the internet, severely handicapping their ability to provide public comments online” during the time frame to provide comments, he said.
And “due to the extreme impact” the proposed ESA listing may have on the people of American Samoa, “I am requesting a face-to-face meeting with NOAA’s decision-making official prior to any additional action on the part of the federal government,” said Lolo, who hopes the federal agency will give this issue “serious consideration”.
In tomorrow’s edition, are the comments submitted by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources as well as a local fishing association.
The proposal was published Dec. 7, 2012 in the Federal Register and a 90-day public comment period was opened through Mar. 7, 2013. The proposed rule was in response to a petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.
However, the federal government received requests to extend the public comment period for an additional 90 days. “We have determined that an extension of 30 days, until April 6, 2013, making the full comment period 120 days, will allow adequate time for the public to thoroughly review and comment on the proposed rule while still providing the agency with sufficient time to meet our statutory deadlines,” said Fisheries Service in its amended notice.