Pac Leaders Oppose Obama’s Proposed Expansion Of Marine Monument

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Lack of consultation and federal overreach are main concerns

By Richelle Agpoon-Cabang

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 26, 2014) – More Pacific island leaders and many marine conservationists are expressing their opposition to President Obama’s proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

These include Gov. Eloy Inos, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, the governments of Guam and American Samoa each of which sent a letter to the White House expressing their concerns and strong objection.

Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-government organization, supports the expansion and said it has gathered more than 100,000 signatures of other supporters from around the globe.

In an interview, Pew’s director of the Ocean Legacy Project, Matt Rand, said he is optimistic about the outcome of their campaign.

"It is time for people to be aware and act to protect our marine natural resources," Rand said.

But John Gourley, a longtime CNMI resident and a Marine conservation advocate, said the Pew campaign is bogus and deceiving.

He said Pew is using scientific studies on overfishing that were disapproved by environmentalists years ago.

The most recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the percentage of overfished stock went down from 10 percent to 9 percent last year.

Only two fish species within the Western Pacific ocean jurisdiction are under the overfishing list.

Gourley said Pew is "using general research to persuade the public to sign a petition which most signatories do not really understand."

Pacific island leaders fear that their heritage and culture will be affected if the expansion proceeds.

A letter from the CNMI to Obama states: "What you may not know is that there is a growing resentment in island communities throughout the western pacific with the Antiquities Act and the unilateral approach used by a sitting president in designating [Marine National Monuments]."

The signatories include Gourley, former Sen. Herman R. Guerrero, president of the Northern Marianas Descent Corporation, Felix Sasamoto, president of Marianas Apnea Spearfishing Club, Ray Camacho of the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council, Richard Seman of the NMI Fishermen Marketing Association, Benigno Sablan of Guihan Pasifiku, Tony Scragg of the Saipan Fishermen Association, Rosemond B. Santos of the KKMP Foundation, David Johanson of Marianas Sailing Club, Cecilia Selepeo of Guardians of Gani, Isidoro Cabrera of the Economic Research and Development Foundation, Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong of the Aghurubw Society, Juan Tenorio of the Tanapag Action Group and Cecilio Raiukiulipiy of the Marianas Water Operations Association.

For their part, the mayors of Saipan, the Northern Islands, Rota and Tinian told the president: "Slowly but surely the Atiquities Act is being used as the tool to close our marine waters to fishing and other extractive purposes for political reasons that have nothing to do with us…. We believe this monument expansion proposal is just the first step in expanding the Marianas Tench, Rose Atoll and Papahanaumokuakea MNMs."

CNMI leaders also noted the unfulfilled promises that the federal government made to them when the commonwealth agreed to the creation of the Marianas Trench marine monument.

Among the promises were allowing the CNMI to co-manage the monument, the establishment of visitors park and a patrol vessel that was to be provided to the commonwealth.

In his letter, Governor Inos said the federal government failed to fulfill its promises.

Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo said: "A complete ban on nearly all activities is disproportionate to current management concerns and is in contrast to the direction given to the Pacific Islands regional planning body for which Guam is an active member…. I humbly request that the expansion of the current monument boundaries be tabled and further discussed with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and that it be allowed to exist in perpetuity."

In his letter to the White House, American Samoa Gov. Lolo M. Moliga said the expansion is "demoralizing and it is quite disturbing that the proponents for the expansion are individuals who have no basic understanding of what the expansion will do to the lives of the affected people."

He said by not consulting other island territories, the White House "epitomizes the typical federal attitude that island residents whose lives are directly affected are not entitled to participate in the process of consultation to ascertain how they feel about the proposed measure."

He added, "As a territory of the U.S., we have no vote on the floor of Congress, but we hope that as a person who grew up in the U.S. Pacific Islands, you will recall the intrinsic importance of the sea to the Pacific islanders, not only for their subsistance living but also for the economic survival of our islands. I implore you to please not expand the existing monuments or create new marine national monuments in the U.S. Pacific Islands."

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