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Gov says Biden’s plan to expand PRIMNM would “cripple” our economy

Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Please hear and consider American Samoa’s strong objection to the designation of a Marine Sanctuary around the Pacific Remote Island Areas (PRIA),” wrote Gov. Lemanu P. S. Mauga in a Mar. 30 letter to U.S President Joe Biden.

Lemanu recalled for the President that this latest objection followed his June 15, 2022 letter urging Biden “to consider the devastating impact this designation could have on our small island home.”

“The concerns expressed in that letter have not changed,” the governor said and noted that: “Our community is staunchly opposed to the expansion of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), as proposed by the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition.”

He argued that the restrictions on commercial fishing that will result from this designation would cripple the single largest private industry in American Samoa’s economy — referring to the tuna cannery.

Lemanu implored the President “to please take into account the serious cultural and financial impacts that this proposed action will have on the people of American Samoa.”

“As the Governor of a small island territory, I am more than aware of the effects of climate change and the need for preservation of natural resources,” he said, adding that the people of American Samoa experience first-hand the results of environmental degradation.

“Unfortunately, this designation, however well- intentioned, is not in the best interest of Pacific Islanders. The creation of a marine sanctuary in the PRIA will be yet another devastating nail in the coffin for the tuna industry that supports our small, fragile economy,” Lemanu said.

Lemanu explained that the PRIA and the high seas have been important traditional fishing grounds for American Samoa-based U.S. flagged purse seine vessels that supply approximately 70% of the tuna needed to sustain the local cannery.

But due to the creation of the Marine National Monument by President Bush in 2009 and expansion by President Obama in 2014 and 2016, more than 50% of the U.S. EEZ’s in the Pacific are closed to commercial fishing, which includes the American Samoa-based U.S. flagged tuna vessels, according to the governor.

“Losing the tuna industry here in American Samoa would mean more than just the loss of almost 5000 jobs. It would also result in a 40% increase in shipping and freight costs and a dramatic increase in electricity costs for residents,” he argued. “Without access to these traditional fishing grounds, our tuna industry and entire economy will be annihilated.”

Lemanu informed the President that the Pacific region has already done more than its share to achieve the goals of the Biden Administration’s “30x30 Initiative”.

“We, the Pacific territories and communities, should not have to bear the burden of these Executive Orders,” the governor declared and said that the “burden is a very heavy one for the people of American Samoa due to our dependence on fishing access of our fleets in these waters.”

 “If the attempt in this designation was to better protect the communities of Pacific Islanders,” Lemanu ask that Biden “consult with us before closing access to our waters.”

“I ask that you please consider the welfare of the U.S. Nationals who rely on and whose ancestors relied on fishing to sustain the local economy. And I ask that you not further destroy the single industry that keeps our economy afloat,” he said.

Lemanu voiced his concern that American Samoa was not consulted prior to the federal government’s latest action.

“Before announcing the intent to designate this marine sanctuary, closing access to nearly 777,000 miles of Pacific Ocean, not a single representative from your administration or the federal government contacted my office or a representative from American Samoa,” Lemanu pointed out.

He said American Samoa is repeatedly left out of the conversation of what is best for the local community. “We are disappointed that actions that could cripple the economy of a U.S. territory would be taken without the consultation of its people,” the governor said.

He pointed out that the federal government continues to make policies that have negative impacts on American Samoa without meaningful consultation with the people that those policies affect.

And these policies are not only counter-productive but run contrary to Biden’s Executive Orders 13985 and 14008.  “American Samoa remains a marginalized and underserved community, and our need for equity must be considered in the policy deliberations of your administration,” he said.

“Our people deserve to be consulted before these actions or policies are implemented,” said Lemanu, who requested “an immediate audience with the [U.S] Secretary of Commerce to discuss our concerns prior to any action being taken.”

The governor’s letter is copied to U.S Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; U.S Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and two other USDOI senior officials; Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata, the Fono leadership and others.

Uifa’atali last month raised urgent concerns about the new National Marine Sanctuary and had written to Raimondo and Haaland.

“I strongly oppose any new National Marine Sanctuary designations in the Pacific, especially ones that are implemented by executive order without consultation with native Samoans and other Pacific Islanders who have cared for and relied on these waters for millennia,” Uifa’atali wrote. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 24 for details.)