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NOAA expansion plan will not take over DMWR

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cited as “misconceptions” some comments received from the public during the comment period on the proposed plan for the expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include five new units and rename it the National Sanctuary of American Samoa.

Among the misconceptions cited is that the management plan and proposed expansion are politically and financially driven, trying to secure new NOAA jobs for non-Samoans and reaching the 20% no-take goal for U.S. reefs where political backlash will not happen.

The expansion will consolidate marine resource management power with the federal government and the local Commerce Department (ASDOC), instead of with the villages and the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), according to another comment.

“Long-established fishing grounds are being taken from the families that own them,” according to one comment published, along with NOAA’s reply in the final plan released last month.

In its reply, NOAA says the purpose of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) is not to take over management authority from local or other federal agencies, but rather to complement existing management, and provide added value to these efforts including resources and expertise, and work in collaboration with these agencies.

The purposes and policies of the NMSA are to “identify and designate as national marine sanctuaries areas of the marine environment which are of special national significance, and to manage these areas as the National Marine Sanctuary System.”

NOAA also explained that  DMWR has participated in sanctuary-sponsored research projects; DMWR conducts monthly enforcement activities in Fagatele Bay through a Joint Enforcement Agreement between DMWR and NOAA, and the conditions of this agreement are expected to be revised based upon needs of the expanded sanctuary.

Additionally, the National Park of American Samoa, the American Samoa Community College, DMWR, and other local agencies and organizations have collaborated with the sanctuary on research on humpback whales, outreach and education activities.

Moreover, the development and maintenance of the Fagatele Bay Trail that connect Fagatele to Fagalua/Fogama’a Bay was a significant collaboration with local agencies and the people of Taputimu, Futiga and Vaitogi villages that makes Fagatele Bay accessible to the public and to island visitors.

Also during the comment period, at least two lawmakers and others stated that DWMR is the  agency empowered to manage, protect, preserve and perpetuate the marine and wildlife resources in the territory, so the proposed expansion plan is a duplication of effort and a waste of money.

In addition, the existing DMWR and National Park of American Samoa community focused conservation programs are accepted by the people of American Samoa. Fa'a-Samoa and Community Marine Tenure are the culturally appropriate means of management, while expansion of the sanctuary will cause the loss of local jurisdiction and disenfranchise the people from this permanent designation.

Moreover proper enforcement of existing local laws will adequately protect marine resources and overlays of existing managed areas are inefficient, confusing, and duplicative.

“This action complements efforts of DMWR, which will be a key partner in supporting the implementation of the action plans,” said NOAA’s response. “It is important to note that this action is a joint effort of Office of National Marine Sanctuaries  and the American Samoa Department of Commerce, which has been fully supported by the Office of Samoan Affairs, the Governor, and DMWR.”

“A primary purpose of expansion is to provide value-added support and collaboration to existing management efforts,” said NOAA.

“The sanctuary will not take over DMWR’s responsibility within the sanctuary units, and the management regime is structured to complement, not replace or be in conflict with, existing authorities,” including the DMWR, NPAS,  and U.S. Fisheries Service, it says.

It also says that the broader geographic scope of the sanctuary provides numerous opportunities to collaborate on this and other issues — e.g., technical assistance, streamlining permitting, assisting with the Governor’s 20% no-take mandate — that are currently limited to activities related to Fagatele Bay.