Westpac council chair makes plea for Am Samoa in face of proposed PRI sanctuary
Honolulu, HAWAII — Western Pacific Fishery Management Council Chair Taulapapa Will Sword made an impassioned plea for assistance on the proposed Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) national marine sanctuary at a national meeting of the regional fishery management councils.
In a discussion on the process for establishing fishing regulations in national marine sanctuaries during the meeting Oct. 11-13, 2023 in Alexandria, Virginia, Taulapapa exposed the plight of American Samoa in the face of the federal government move proposing a sanctuary in the PRI.
“This administration’s EOs [Executive Orders] on equity and environmental justice goals are rubbish if this sanctuary proposal becomes a reality for there will be no commercial fishing,” said Taulapapa. “Without our cannery, we become useless to this great country; our underserved fishing community suffers, for fishing is our culture!”
At the CCC meeting, John Armor from the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) described the existing fishing regulatory language and showed a flow-diagram outlining what NOAA considers to be the Council’s role in decision-making. The CCC questioned the compressed timeline for sanctuary development compared to past practice and suggested that ONMS consultation should occur earlier and more often in the process.
The proposed PRI sanctuary was in response to President Biden’s direction to the Secretary of Commerce on March 21, 2023, to explore its establishment as part of his administration's goal to conserve and restore at least 30% of the country's lands and waters by 2030. A National Marine Fisheries Service data analysis presented at a recent workshop in American Samoa demonstrated there is no added conservation benefit of the proposed sanctuary.
In his remarks, Western Pacific Council Chair Taulapapa noted, “This top-down approach to regulating fisheries is wrong. It is completely opposite of the [Magnuson-Stevens Act] process where the bottom-up approach is mandatory.”
American Samoa’s economy is dependent upon the StarKist Samoa tuna cannery, which accounts for 99.5% of exports and along with ancillary businesses 84% of the territory’s private employment, according to data provided by the council.
The cannery relies on the fish caught in the PRI by the U.S. longline and purse seine fleets and any loss of the fish from this area is expected to have significant impacts on American Samoa.
For more information on fishing regulations and the proposed sanctuary, visit www.wpcouncil.org/marine-spatial-management.