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Sanctuary public hearing: Real issues are enforcement and Chinese fleets


Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Several speakers at last week’s sanctuary public hearing say the real issues that are a major concern and need immediate attention are the lack of fishing enforcement and the growing presence of the Chinese fleets in Pacific waters.

Otto Vincent Haleck, president and owner of three longliner vessels that supply fish to Starkist Samoa, says while he supports the proposal to designate Pacific Remote Islands as a new sanctuary he does not support it if it’s going to negatively affect the purse seiner fleets that deliver fish to the cannery. He said everyone in the room will be affected because the government and businesses depend on the cannery. He explained that if the proposal goes through and the Pacific Remote Islands are banned from commercial fishing, the purse seiners will go to Mexico to unload their catches because Mexico will be closer and will cost less.

Haleck said the purse seiners are not the problem. “We’re surrounded by the Chinese fleets, literally thousands of them; my boat sees them all the time. They’re catching our fish and selling it to us,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen until we can protect our own waters and take care of our own waters and catch our own fish. The Chinese are going to continue to fish our waters and we can’t seem to have the political will from Washington to be able to address this issue.”

Longtime resident Jim McGuire said he supports the American Samoa Government’s idea of building a landing strip in Swains Island because if it happens local and federal enforcement agencies will be able to monitor American Samoa and international waters. “The real fishermen know it’s an enforcement issue. The ocean is too big to try and close these areas off that will affect a little place like American Samoa.”

Referring to the hundreds of Chinese fleets that are “disseminating fishing” in the Galapagos Islands, McGuire said Galapagos is overseen by Ecuador and the country does not have the might like the United States. “The real issue is the ability to enforce the laws and I think China is the biggest problem in the oceans all around the world,” he warned. “Unless that situation is addressed, who knows where the future is going to be from here!”

The remarks were made on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 on a proposal to designate submerged lands and waters surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a new national marine sanctuary.

According to information shared at the hearing, the PRI is part of the US Western Pacific communities as a whole (Hawaii, American Samoa, CNMI and Guam) and it consists of Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, Jarvis Island, Howland & Baker Islands, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.

The existing monument covers most of these uninhabited islands, except for Howland, Baker, Kingman and Palmyra where the monument extends to only 50 miles from the island.