CNMI LAWMAKERS CITED FOR ILLEGAL HUNTING OF COCONUT CRABS

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 22, 2002 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Three Northern Marianas legislators and two Division of Fish and Wildlife employees are among 17 people cited for illegally entering a conservation island and hunting coconut crabs.

The Department of Lands and Natural Resources issued the citations for illegally entering one of the four islands designated as a sanctuary by the Northern Marianas Constitution.

Spokeswoman Marianne Teregeyo said the citations also included illegal hunting and illegal possession of coconut crabs. The crabs have been confiscated by the department.

Saipan Representatives Frank DLG. Aldan, Ramon Tebuteb, and Arnold I. Palacios were among the group that went to the Northern Islands this month by boat.

They stated that their original destination was Pagan but the citations allege that they landed on Asuncion.

Under the Constitution, Uracas, Asuncion, Maug and Guguan are conservation islands.

Anyone wishing to enter them must first secure a permit and written authorization from the Department of Lands and Natural Resources and Division of Fish and Wildlife, Teregeyo said.

The open season for hunting coconut crabs is from September to November. They can be hunted anywhere then except on conservation islands, and with a bag limit of not more than 10 per person.

Palacios, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and a former Division of Fish and Wildlife director, said there was "miscommunication" and "misunderstanding."

"We were under the impression that the permit issued to Representative Aldan also allowed us to go to Asuncion. I believe the citation issued to me and some of them will be waived, and that’s the purpose of the administrative hearing in the next few days," he said.

"I did not get off the boat. I just stayed on the boat and went fishing," Palacios told the Marianas Variety in an interview.

Palacios said the legislators and the rest of the team did not intend to violate any law.

"We regret this predicament and basically we will, in the future, make sure that all permits or clearances are obtained and clarified," Palacios said.

He said the government-paid trip to the Northern Islands was to assess the "livability" of the islands in relation to pending legislation seeking to establish homesteads on the islands.

On the day of their departure, Aldan, on behalf of his company, Tropical Gardens, requested a special permit to transfer one live fruit bat and five coconut crabs from Anatahan to Saipan.

These animals, he said, would be used for educational purposes and displayed at the Saipan Zoo, which he owns.

Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Richard Seman granted the permit during the same day, provided that Aldan met certain conditions.

"Further investigation and testimonies from boat crew indicated that the coconut crabs were illegally harvested on Asuncion, a conservation island as designated under the CNMI Constitution," Teregeyo said.

Division of Fish and Wildlife confiscated from the Saipan Zoo the four coconut crabs taken from Asuncion. Each weighs from 1.76 lbs. to 4 lbs.

Saipan Zoo, however, was allowed to keep the juvenile fruit bat taken from Anatahan.

Aldan could not be reached for comment. He is currently in Palau to attend the Association of Pacific Island Legislators meeting.

Tebuteb did not return Marianas Variety’s calls.

The two Division of Fish and Wildlife employees cited were Jacinto Taman and Anthony Flores.

The vessel’s captain, Manny Blas, and its owner, Norman Tenorio, face stiffer charges, according to Department of Lands and Natural Resources.

Under Public Law 2-51 and the Northern Marianas Fish and Wildlife Regulations, each individual faces $100 to $1,000 fine per violation.

Teregeyo said an administrative hearing will be set within two weeks, to allow the individuals cited an opportunity to appeal.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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