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Shipyard Authority joins DOC to object in way NMFS seeks local public comment

Says just one more “overbearing” act, in a process of many ills affecting local fisheries

ASG Shipyard Service Authority has lodged a “strenuous objection” with the US National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) over the way the federal agency sought public comments, with only one local public hearing on a proposed regulation for aquaculture program in American Samoa.

Shipyard executive director Moefa’auo Bill Emmsley contends that the manner in which communications between the federal and American Samoa interests “were handled imprudently and overall callously.”

In August this year, NMFS — in coordination with the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council — issued a notice announcing its intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to analyze the potential environmental impact of a proposed Pacific Islands Region (PIR) aquaculture management program and alternatives.

The PEIS is intended to support offshore aquaculture development, including appropriate management unit species for aquaculture, reasonably foreseeable types of offshore aquaculture operations, and permitting and reporting requirements for persons conducting aquaculture activities in Federal waters.

Comment period for the proposed aquaculture regulation was the close of business on Monday this week and Moefa’auo’s comment letter, dated Oct. 27, was publicly released yesterday via federal portal []. Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele already lodged his complaint with NMFS over the process of obtaining local comments through only one public hearing on Sept. 8 (See yesterday’s edition for details).

In his  “letter of protest” to NMFS, Moefa’auo said the proposed action, which was approved in a vote by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, “is tacitly precarious, given the scanty process in place for ‘review and comment’.”

He noted that American Samoa has delegates on the Council, but they often represent different interests and narrow perspectives, with respect to ‘fisheries’ as a whole.

“Thus, with the indifferent manner the review and comment process is obviously handled, this then raises questions with the inclusiveness and soundness of the ‘mechanism’ in which effective communications between the public and federal agencies occur, which appears to be inadequate, inaccessible, untimely and shoddy even from our ‘parallax’ views,” Moefa’auo wrote to NMFS regional administrator Michael D. Tosatto.

“Moreover,” he said, “the assortment of said points of views particularly, the voices of indigenous, minorities and disenfranchised are not adequately heard to this extent.”

Moefa’auo points out the local commercial tuna fishing industry and ancillary industries in the territory are still “reeling” from NOAA’s most recent decision to regulate and restrict access of certain fishing grounds to American-based tuna boats on the high seas, which has adversely impacted the local Shipyard’s economic value and affected its ability to project its social relevance to the community.

“Apparently, such overbearing acts, led to the unimpeded enactment of such decision, despite the many voices of cautionary overtones from residents, businesses, and public agencies within the American Samoa populace, [which] went unheeded and fell on death ears,” he argued.

 As a result from such hardship, the impending downsizing of the Samoa Tuna Packing (STP) cannery plant is going into effect shortly throwing at least 500 employees out of work and its “trickle-down” effects will not be truly known and undoubtedly still impact the Shipyard and the rest of the community, the Executive director said.

“Again, we contend that the manner in which communications between the federal and American Samoa interests were handled imprudently and overall callously,” he declared.

Moefa’au said his letter is the shipyard’s “strenuous objection” of “these proceedings based on what now appears to be a lack of a serious forum, from which vital exchange of review and comments as well as solutions are considered.”

He concluded: “We’re hopeful therefore, that appropriate communications measures are installed so that the views of those from... American Samoa are taken genuinely.”

NMFS is not expected to provide a response of some sort to Moefa’auo and Lafaele’s letters until a final ruling is issued — in the near future.

Since yesterday’s Samoa News story based on Lafaele’s letter some local and off island readers have raised concerns about the federal government’s over-reaching into territorial waters — which is described by PEIS as ‘federal waters’ — for the proposed aquaculture program and the impact it will have on local fishery.

“It appears that this is another round of problems with the federal government controlling our fishing grounds,” said one reader in an email.


Meanwhile, the shipyard will hold a ground-breaking ceremony tomorrow for a new two-story facility that will house all its critical workshops and business division. The project is funded with $1 million in proceeds from the American Samoa Economic Development bonds.

Lafaele, who is also the shipyard’s board chairman, told Samoa News last week that the $1 million allocation would be used to build a two-story warehouse building along the roadside of the compound. He said the first story will be to house machine shops, to have space for repairs, while the second floor will be for classrooms for workforce training and development, and for administration.

“This will make room on the ocean side of the compound for other purposes relative to the shipyard including the possible expansion of the StarKist freezer space as requested,” he said.