CNMI, US Begin Work On Co-Management Plan For Marine Monument

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Submerged land under lease to US not currently under CNMI control

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 27, 2014) – More than five years since the presidential creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the U.S. has started working with the CNMI government on a co-management agreement that, once finalized, will pave the way for the Commonwealth to also control the submerged lands around Maug, Uracas, and Asuncion. Gov. Eloy S. Inos met with visiting federal officials last week on preliminary co-management deal talks but there is still no specific timeline when this deal could be finalized.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), meanwhile, said the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument "is not included" in President Barack Obama’s proposed vast expansion of a Pacific Ocean marine sanctuary.

But the CNMI still has to be prepared to respond to any suggestions from other entities to expand the Marianas Trench Monument.

Although the president did not announce any intention to expand the Marianas Trench Monument, Sablan said "the Pew Charitable Trust did respond to the news by suggesting an expansion of the Marianas Monument."

"So I think that it is likely that we will see that suggestion among the public comments that are submitted to the White House over the summer. And I would certainly encourage everyone in the Northern Marianas to participate in this opportunity to let the President know what you think about how we can best protect our oceans," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

The governor met last week with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries’ Michael Tosatto and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’ Robyn Thorson.

The visit, according to press secretary Angel Demapan, was "basically to signal the start of putting together a co-management agreement."

"Basically, the federal side will work with the CNMI representatives to the Marine Monument Advisory Council to draft an agreement for review. At this point, this process has not started," Demapan said.

The press secretary said the CNMI didn’t get any information from the visiting group whether the Marianas Trench Monument is part of Obama’s planned expansion of the Pacific marine sanctuary.

Last week’s meeting between CNMI officials, USFWS, and NOAA also came five months since Obama signed a proclamation temporarily withholding the transfer to the CNMI of submerged lands around five islands that are either part of a national marine monument or under lease to the U.S. military, until a co-management agreement is made, among other things.

Obama exempted from the transfer to the CNMI the control of submerged lands around Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas), Maug, and Asuncion, which are part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, as well as Tinian and Farallon de Medinilla that are under lease to the U.S. military.

Inos and the Legislature asked for a firm 180-day timeline to come up with a co-management plan, among other things, but the Obama administration did not consider this.

Obama’s plan

Sablan said Obama’s proposed expansion of a Pacific marine sanctuary is about the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which is south and west of Hawaii, protecting areas around Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, and Wake Island.

Like the Marianas Trench Monument, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was also established by President Bush in 2009.

Sablan said Obama, in an announcement last week, said that before making any decision about the exact geographic scope and details of future marine protections, he would be taking comments and recommendations from fishermen, scientists, conservation experts, government officials, and other members of the public.

"The White House said that it was particularly interested in understanding the extent of commercial activity that would be affected by any expansion of the Remote Islands Monument. Recreational fishing is already allowed there. Although the president did not announce any intention to expand the Marianas Trench Monument, the Pew Charitable Trust did respond to the news by suggesting an expansion of the Marianas Monument," Sablan said.

Some members of the CNMI Legislature, including House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), said they will monitor developments about the president’s plans.

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