Am. Samoa Enacts Marine Species Protection Order

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Focus placed on safeguarding rare fish species

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 5, 2012) – In an effort to protect rare marine species in American Samoa’s waters, Gov. Togiola Tulafono signed last month an executive order prohibiting the "possession" of sharks and other rare marine species.

According to the order, dated Aug. 2, "rare marine species" are defined as:

Sharks are keystone species for maintaining healthy marine systems, including coral reefs and fish population, according to the order, which also states that about 73 million sharks are killed around the world each year, primarily for their fins, and this rate is pushing about one-third of open ocean shark species to the brink of extinction, damaging the ecosystems that support other species, degrading coral reef habitats and adversely affecting fish populations.

"American Samoa has only 4-8% of the coral reef sharks that our reef should have," it says.

Bumphead Parrotfish, the order says, "are especially vulnerable to nighttime spear fishing because they sleep in schools either in the open or in holes that are too small for them to completely fit into and they sleep in the same area every night and have been driven by fishing to local extinction in many areas."

It also says that Bumphead Parrotfish are extremely rare in American Samoa and may be close to extinction with a minimum population doubling time for Bumphead parrotfish is 4.5 to 14 years.

Humphead Wrasse, according to the order, are heavily targeted in the Pacific for the live food fish trade and fisheries tend to target juveniles of Humphead Wrasse, which severely reduces the reproductive potential of the species. Humphead Wrasse minimum population doubling time is 4.5 to 14 years.

Regarding the Giant Grouper, the order says that this species is heavily targeted for the live fish food trade because it is considered to have medicinal qualities and provide good luck by Asian countries.

Giant Grouper’s minimum population double time is over 14 years and the species juveniles are commonly targeted, reducing their reproductive potential by removing them from the population before they can breed.

"The American Samoa Government recognizes that [these] species are rare and deserving of additional protections," said Togiola in his order. "American Samoa recognizes that if we do not protect these rare marine species now, it may have serious repercussions to the marine ecosystem and we could lose these species forever."

The order also states that no person shall:

The order further states that if any rare marine species is caught or captured, it shall be immediately released, whether dead or alive. And if the species is captured alive, it shall be released in a manner that affords it the greatest opportunity for survival.

"It is not a defense that the rare marine species was caught or captured inadvertently, as by-catch, or from another fishery," it says and pointed out that any person who holds a permit issued by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) to "conduct scientific research" is not subject to penalties of this order.

Any one violating this order is subject to fines and penalties prescribed under local statue. Additionally, any species listed in this order or parts discovered in violation of this order shall be confiscated by the government and delivered to the DMWR, who is charged with promulgating regulations to conform with this order.

The regulations shall be reviewed at least every three years to determine whether these fisheries are sustainable, whether these rare marine species need continued protection and whether new species should be added for protection.

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