DISTRICT GOVERNORS CALL FOR REMOVAL OF EXPANDED SANCTUARY
(UTULEI, AMERICAN SAMOA)—The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council today concluded the second of its three-day meeting at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium (Fale Laumei) in American Samoa. The meeting opened yesterday at the newly erected fale Samoa with a traditional `ava ceremony, one of the most important customs of the Samoa Islands involving a solemn ritual where a ceremonial beverage is shared to mark important occasions in Samoan society.
“Fishing is the ocean and fishing is life to the Samoans and throughout the Pacific,” said Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga during the welcoming remarks. Lt. Gov. Mauga, whose term began in January of this year, noted that there is a clash between the Pacific Island culture and the Westerners and a clash among the efforts of agencies and organizations responsible for fisheries, sanctuaries and coral reefs. “Some trying to protect … some trying to survive,” Lt. Gov. Mauga noted. “I hope today will be a new day … new ways of going forward, new ways of thinking.”
During the next two days passionate public testimonies were heard regarding the recently expanded Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, now known as the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Originally established by NOAA in 1986, the Sanctuary included 0.25 square miles within Fagatele Bay.
In 2012, NOAA expanded the sanctuary to include Fagalua/Fogama`a (the next bay east of Fagatele) on Tutuila Island; areas off the islands of Aunu`u, Ta`u (in the Manu`a Group) and Swains; and a marine protected area at Rose Atoll (which is known as Muliāva by the Manu`a residents) including nearby Vailulu`u seamount. The expanded Sanctuary covers 13,581 square miles of nearshore coral reef and offshore open ocean waters and includes a mixture of no-take fishing areas, areas where fishing is restricted to certain species and gear types by permit only, and open-fishing areas.
All of the testimonies except one were strongly opposed to the expanded Sanctuary. They included two of the Territory’s three District Governors, the Office of Samoan Affairs, a Representative for the Territory’s Fono (Legislature), a master fisherman (tau tai), representatives from the Pago Alia Fisherman Association and a private citizen. In favor of the expansion was the Representative from Swains Island to the Fono (Legislature of American Samoa), who said the Sanctuary has provided recognition of the island but has not assisted in needed economic development.