American Samoa Lt. Gov. asks fisheries, sanctuary and coral reef efforts to work together

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Sanctuary map.

Eastern District Gov. Alo Stevenson said that National Marine Fisheries Service data shows that the area between Manu`a islands and Rose Atoll has the potential fishing revenue of $1.2 million per year. “That’s a lot to take away,” noted Stevenson, whose district includes five counties and 26 villages, the majority of which are on the ocean front. He stressed that the fairness of the Sanctuary process was not clear. The Fishery Management Council process includes scientific studies and studies on the social, economic and cultural benefits and impacts. “If this is true [for the Sanctuary], it has not been done,” he said. He said Samoans fish every day, and the Samoan proverbs tell people to proceed with caution. “Don’t worry about the fish. You can fish tomorrow. Worry about the net. If you cannot mend the net, you will not eat.” Stevenson said they were always told that they could fish in the Sanctuary, but he asked what is required, what are the regulations? “The picture is one sided and not clear. We are a fishing community. … We have to eat and feed our family through commercial means and through bartering.”

Paramount Chief Misaalefua Hudson, District Governor from Manu`a, said that the Council meeting was the first time he was asked and able to speak about the Sanctuary expansion. Referring to Muliāva (Rose Atoll), he asked, “How would anyone feel, if something you owned for over 3,000 years and someone else tells you, you cannot go there anymore.” He explained that two years ago, when they heard about the Sanctuary expansion, all of the elders of Manu`a signed a petition and sent it to then Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who ignored it. “Our people are still sitting in the dark,” the Paramount Chief noted, adding that no one came to Manua`a. “Rose Atoll is part of our islands,” he concluded. “Muliāva is the name of the island … we don’t need others to tell us not to go there.” He said the current restriction against subsistence fishing within 12 miles around Rose Atoll should be lifted.

Sagele Tuiteleleapaga, Executive Assistant at the Office of Samoan Affairs, explained that there are 56 villages in American Samoa and each one is independent from one another. “They are sacrosanct in their own make up. Each village has its own constitution. … That is why federal regulations are almost inexplicable to American Samoans as we have independent units that do not obey or are aligned with these federal laws.” He noted that the Samoan people have inhabited American Samoa for 3,000 years “and all of a sudden someone writes legislation, President Bush signs and people were forbidden to go to Muliāva.” Tuiteleleapaga was referring to the establishment of the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument on Jan. 6, 2009, by executive order. Presidential Proclamation 8337 prohibited commercial fishing within the monument, whose boundaries extend 50 nautical miles from the mean low water line of Rose Atoll and encompasses approximately 13,451 square miles, and provided that the Secretary of Commerce initiate the process to add the marine areas of the monument to the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

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