Feds vow to leave Pacific marine monument alone
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Biden administration has no plans to expand the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, according to a federal official.
Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, issued the statement in response to Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata’s inquiry amid American Samoa’s worry about the potential impact of expansion on the territory’s fishing industry.
Williams said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA and the wildlife agency are spearheading the monument management plan for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
“As part of monument management planning, the wildlife agency “is not considering additional or potential expansion of the (marine monument) beyond what has already been implemented by Presidential Proclamations 8336 and 9173,” Williams told Amata.
Those presidential proclamations created the marine monument, then tripled it in size, placing over 495,000 square miles of the Pacific off limits.
In her June letter to President Biden, Amata urged the administration to seek thorough local input and advice from Pacific territories before taking any action that would affect their economies.
The American Samoa delegate noted that the territory, located thousands of miles from Washington, D.C., “is as rural a community can be in the United States and is traditionally built around a fishing-based culture.”
The marine sanctuary designation “removed fishing operations from a U.S. EEZ area that was once the size of California and is now four times that,” Amata said.
Amata also opposes NOAA's proposed rule that would impose restrictions on purse seine fisheries and set longline bigeye catch limit.
Earlier, American Samoa Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga expressed concerns that the proposed rule could result in new restrictions for the U.S. fleet.
“Knowing that this rule will separate U.S. EEZ days from Western and Central Pacific Fishery Council high seas days, and that separation will likely result in closing the high seas where American Samoa’s U.S. flag purse seiners operate, thereby reducing the tuna supply to our economy, I cannot support this action being proposed by NOAA,” he said.
Supporting Mauga’s position, Amata said, "I believe this rule would have a negative impact not only on the territory of American Samoa and our own economic stability but on the rest of the United States fishing industry."
She said the proposed rule would exacerbate American Samoa’s economic distress caused by the dwindling purse-seine fleet.
“The rule is unnecessary for compliance with the United State obligations under the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Council and hinders the negotiating position of the U.S. industry in critical international access,” Amata said.
“Furthermore, it is frankly not supported by any scientific reasoning nor does it further any goals of environmental protection or fish stock conservation,” she added.