NOAA releases Fagatele Bay sanctuary final mgmt plan
With little fanfare, NOAA officials yesterday released a final management plan and environmental impact statement that guides future activities and outlines the addition of five marine areas at Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, according to a media release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The press release states that “NOAA anticipates issuing the final rule implementing these changes and associated regulations by late July in the Federal Register. The rule is expected to go into effect by the end of the year.”
The changes, NOAA explains, contained with the final management plan are:
1 The five additional areas are Fagalua/Fogama’a, waters around Muliāva (also known as Rose Atoll), and additional waters around Swains Island, Aunu`u Island and Ta’u Island. These waters include some of the oldest and largest known corals in the world.
2 The proposal to change the name of the sanctuary to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.
Samoa News reported extensively on the proposed changes, including strong support by Governor Togiola Tulafono and government agencies, such as the Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources and the Office of Samoan Affairs.
Public opinion and comments were polarized, many noting the lack of public attendance at community meetings, the lack of knowledge by village matai of the issue (the addition of the five areas and the name change); and the lack of public education on the proposed changes.
(Amid the public debate about the changes, NOAA began to run advertisements in the Samoa News, to educate the public about their proposed rule changes.)
What came to light, during the review process of the proposed plan were the public comments, which could be done in writing, made directly or through a federal website, with the first deadline, on Jan. 06 of this year.
However, because of the strong protest by the public, including Congressman Faleomavaega Eni weighing in, the comment portion of the review was extended to March 2012.
Of interest, is that that Faleomavaega, in a press release, in March 2012, said that “once NOAA has reviewed all the comments, it is required by law to “publish in the Federal Register notice of the designation together with final regulations”, and to also “submit such notice to the Congress.”
“Congress can ultimately nullify the final designation by introducing legislation with specific language to disapprove the new boundaries of the Sanctuary,” Faleomavaega pointed out. “In addition, it may also insert restrictive language in the annual Appropriations for the National Marine Sanctuaries program that would effectively disallow the use of funds to implement the proposed expansion at Fagatele Bay.”
Since the closing of the public comments, little has been heard locally of the proposed changes until this press release by NOAA that anticipates the changes happening by the end of this year.
The press release, as follows, notes:
The revised management plan, prepared in conjunction with the American Samoan government, is a result of an extensive review process which involved scientific assessment, public comment, community meetings and consultation with local village and government leaders.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries co-manages the sanctuary with the American Samoa Government and works closely with communities adjacent to the sanctuary, all within the context of Samoan cultural traditions and practices.
The final management plan, combined with a final environmental impact statement, also updates the site’s original management plan and identifies new regulations for greater resource protection. The plan describes the sanctuary’s goals and guiding principles, regulations and boundaries, and guides future activities. It also proposes changing of the name of the sanctuary to the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.
Copies of the new management plan and environmental impact statement can be obtained by calling (684) 633-5155 ext. 264, or downloaded from the sanctuary’s website: http://www.fagatelebay.noaa.gov.
Designated in 1986, Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary has protected and preserved a quarter-square-mile fringing coral reef ecosystem nestled within an eroded volcanic crater on the southern coast of Tutuila, American Samoa. The sanctuary is uniquely rich in both natural resources and cultural heritage and home to a wide variety of animals and plants that thrive in the bay’s protected waters.
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On the Web:
Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary: http://fagatelebay.noaa.gov
On Oct. 20, 2011 NOAA released a media statement announcing a new draft management plan and environmental assessment for Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa. The new draft plan and proposed rule changes included the addition of five new reef and offshore areas, and a change of the name of the sanctuary to American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.
The statement said the plan was based on several years of scientific assessment and public input, and would serve as a roadmap for addressing issues facing the sanctuary over the next five to 10 years. Comments from the public were requested on both the management plan and proposed regulatory changes. The original deadline for comments was set for January 6, 2012 and later extended to March 9, 2012.
NOAA also announced four public hearings to gather input from the public.
Less than a week after its announcement the proposal became a ‘hot button’ issue with comments showing up on the NOAA website.
On Nov. 4 Congressman Faleomavaega weighed in voicing his “strong opposition” to the federal agency’s proposed rule to expand the current Fagatele Marine Sanctuary to include five additional sites.
“Communal land is an integral part of the Samoan culture and extending federal protection over communal property may be seen by some as federal imposition on the rights of the local communities and villages to manage and administer the said property,” he said.
Gov. Togiola on his weekly radio program on Dec. 10, 2011 said he had heard a lot of discussion about the NOAA proposal and it appeared many in the community had not read the report in detail, nor had they read the recommendations.
The governor said people are reacting to what others are saying about too many restrictions being proposed, but “anything we can do in the name of conservation” is very important.
Samoa News noted at the time that comments against the sanctuary expansion proposal had been focused on the process and not the plans in themselves.
In early January 2012 the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council raised concerns over the expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include waters surrounding Aunu’u, which would restrict fishing there. “The theory that restricting human use will achieve ecosystem balance has been discredited for many years. What’s clear is that the Aunu’u no-take area will further reduce available fishable areas for fishermen,” the spokesperson said.
The next day seven U.S. based marine sanctuary groups voiced “strong support” for NOAA’s plan. “We are confident that expanding sanctuary conservation and management in the waters of American Samoa will help restore fish populations, maintain populations of rare or protected species, expand education and science initiatives, and offer new economic opportunities in the territory,” a letter to FBNMS superintendent Gene Brighouse said in part.
As time approached for the original January comment deadline,the federal regulatory website receiving comments showed more than 100 comments but Samoa News noted some of them were duplicates, while others came from comment cards given to residents who attended local public hearings on the proposals. Nonetheless, comments opposing heavily outweighed those in favor.
In addition to objections to methodology, the inclusion of Aunu’u came under fire, with lawmakers representing Aunu’u in the Senate and House voicing strong opposition.
During his State of the Territory address last January, Gov. Togiola told lawmakers that the American Samoa Government is in full support of the proposed rule to add five additional units to the sanctuary.
Togiola described comments by those opposing the expansion as “selfish” and dismissed claims by opponents that the proposal will infringe on cultural matters in American Samoa.
Faleasao, Manu'a residents came out "rejecting" the inclusion of waters around Ta’u island in the proposed expansion, while the Manu'a matai who is now the head of ASG’s Office of Samoan Affairs, Lefiti Atiulagi Pese, said the management plan would provide numerous benefits to the people of American Samoa for generations to come.
In Februarythe Senate approved a concurrent resolution requesting that Faleomavaega initiate a thorough and complete Congressional review of all issues. In March, he requested that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) office review the Senate Concurrent Resolution and he explained a bit about the process.
Faleomavaega explained the process for revising the terms of designation and the role of Congress, adding that NOAA’s proposal was going through the vetting process that Congress established under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) for the designation of any new Sanctuary.
While NOAA’s proposal is not a new designation but an expansion of an existing Sanctuary, the same procedures under NMSA apply, he said, adding that NOAA’s proposal is also governed by the administrative rule-making and procedures stipulated by Congress under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
He said these procedures consist mainly of a public comment period to allow for input from the public and all stakeholders, especially those that are directly affected by the proposed regulations.
“It is the intent of Congress that NOAA would give these inputs much consideration in their final rule, and I am pleased that in several discussions with NOAA officials, they have assured my office that they would respond to all public comments submitted for the record,” he said.
These procedural requirements under the NMSA and APA exist to ensure that NOAA is held accountable, especially to those individuals and communities that are affected the most.
Once NOAA has reviewed all the comments, it is required by law to “publish in the Federal Register notice of the designation together with final regulations”, and to also “submit such notice to the Congress”, he said.
“Congress can ultimately nullify the final designation by introducing legislation with specific language to disapprove the new boundaries of the Sanctuary,” he pointed out. “In addition, it may also insert restrictive language in the annual Appropriations for the National Marine Sanctuaries program that would effectively disallow the use of funds to implement the proposed expansion at Fagatele Bay.”
(Sources: NOAA press release, June 22, 2012, Samoa News archives)