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U.S. House committee hears testimony on importance of fishing rights to Am Samoa

Source: Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata’s D.C. staff

Washington, D.C. — Uifa’atali Amata took part in a hearing Tuesday in the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that examined U.S. waters and the marine sanctuary and monument. The hearing was titled, “Examining Barriers to Access in Federal Waters: A Closer Look at the Marine Sanctuary and Monument System.”

Congresswoman Amata gave remarks and used a visual display of the Pacific waters to defend the need for fishing rights, before asking key questions of the expert witnesses, emphasizing the fact that 51 percent of the two million square mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been designated via presidential proclamation.

“I want to show just how much the Biden Administration is taking from Samoans and other indigenous peoples in the Pacific. By expanding the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument, we will lose nearly all U.S. EEZ’s in the Pacific,” Congresswoman Amata warned. “At this critical time, with China increasingly gaining a foothold in the region, the United States will quickly become nothing more than a passive bystander in the world’s largest fishery.”

Following an administration witness’s mention of working with the three governors of the U.S. Pacific territories, Amata said, “These three governors are united and are against the expansion,” citing a bipartisan letter signed by all three.

Testimony submitted by Governor Lemanu P. S. Mauga also strongly emphasized American Samoa’s priorities with a statement and supporting facts.

Governor Lemanu said, “The importance of fishing and the ocean to the people and culture of American Samoa cannot be overstated. Samoans landed on these shores 3,000 years ago and utilized the natural resources both on land and in the sea to build a rich community. The ocean and its marine resources jave allowed Fa’asamoa, the Samoan way of life, to thrive for thousands of years. Samoan legends and cultural practices revolve around fishing and access to ocean waters. Fishing has provided Samoan people not just with food to eat but also a means to support families, especially during times of struggle. This reliance on fishing and marine resources has continued for centuries and remains the single largest pillar of the American Samoa economy today.”

Executive Director Bill Gibbons-Fly of the American Tunaboat Association gave compelling testimony.

Director Gibbons-Fly said, “I am here today to testify to the significant adverse impact on the U.S. Pacific fishing fleets and to the economy of American Samoa resulting from the previous designation of Pacific Marine National Monuments under the Antiquities Act and the proposed creation of a Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Sanctuary under National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Actions under these two pieces of legislation have been and are being used to bypass and override the rigorous, science-based, and participatory fisheries management system established by Congress over several decades. Moreover, these actions are being taken with little thought to the economic consequences to an important sector of the U.S. economy, the economies of our U.S. territories, domestic and regional food security, and yes, even U.S. national security.”

Additionally, William Johnson Aila, a Native Hawaiian fisherman called as a witness by the Committee’s Democratic Party membership, supported American Samoa’s need for the American Samoa Economic Development Credit to bolster the tuna industry in the territory and any future qualifying development.

Together, this hearing’s testimony once again strongly emphasized the overwhelming facts supporting American Samoa’s position defending our local economy and the future of fishing for the territory.