Fono concerned with proposed coral reef designation
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A House Concurrent Resolution supports the request by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) to suspend the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed coral critical habitat designation process that will impact coral in the waters of American Samoa.
The non-binding resolution, signed by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale and Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, was among documents submitted to the NMFS by DMWR director Taotasi Archie Soliai, who opposes the proposed fishery rule to designate critical habitat for seven threatened corals in U.S. waters in the Indo-Pacific.
Taotasi argued that the proposal is “not based on the best scientific information available of what we know of these listed corals” and called for further review, saying that there are already local statute to cover such matter. (See Samoa News online edition June 1st for details.)
The seven Indo- Pacific corals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are within U.S. waters in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), American Samoa, and the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA), according to the NMFS notice issued late last year.
The Fono resolution, points out — among other things — “coral reefs sustain our local island communities through livelihood, subsistence and fish for customary exchange and cultural activities, and that fishing is integral to the robust, yet, vulnerable Samoan culture - the Fa’a Samoa.”
It also states that regulatory protections for corals currently include a multitude of local and federal regulatory programs that protect both Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species and coral reef habitat.
According to the measure, the Legislature for itself and on behalf of the people of American Samoa, extends its full support of DMWR’s request to:
• postpone the current proposed coral critical habitat designation process due to the complete disregard of local agency coordination by NMFS, critical habitat maps presented in the proposed rule are not based on best scientific information available as the coral 5-Year Status Review has not been completed;
• allow DMWR to develop the Territory’s coral critical habitat map based on local current data in lieu of recognized “deficient NMFS critical habitat maps” included in the Proposed Rule;
• reconsider the prudence of designation of the coral critical habitat i American Samoa as the process is redundant with existing regulatory programs. There are sufficient existing local and federal regulatory programs in place to protect our imperiled coral species and coral habitat.
The resolution supports DMWR’s request to NMFS to “suspend the proposed coral critical habitat designation process until the coral 5-year status review can be completed and have DMWR, work in concert with NMFS in identifying appropriate coral critical habitat for American Samoa.