Am. Samoa Governor Implores Obama Not To Expand Marine Monument

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‘Tyranny of federal laws’ putting territorial economy at risk: Lolo

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 16, 2014) – To protect fishing grounds of the U.S. Pacific jurisdictions, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has urged U.S. President Barack Obama not to expand existing marine national monuments or create new monuments in the U.S. Pacific islands.

Lolo’s letter voiced his official opposition to Obama’s proposal which would expand the Pacific Remote Island Marine Monument. Lolo says the move by the President "triggered shock waves with devastating consequences" to Americans living in the U.S. Pacific territories "as it will effectively curtail their continued economic survival along with the simultaneous preemption of their subsistence lifestyles".

The governor pointed out that the continued economic viability of the local tuna canneries is already in jeopardy by the "aggressive and predatory investments" by China in fisheries development in the Pacific.

"Cash-starved independent islands in the Pacific are selling fishing permits to Chinese fishing vessels to harvest fish within their Exclusive Economic Zones," the governor claimed.

In July this year, the Samoa government signed an agreement with Bumble Bee Foods to set up a fish canning plant in Apia, providing "direct and unfair competition...to StarKist Samoa and Tri Marine International as the current tyranny of federal laws will not apply [in Samoa], only to be exacerbated by minimum wage levels that will be five to ten times lower," Lolo wrote.

"One devastating impact is the loss of fish on which our canneries depend to sustain production," he said and reminded Obama that the territory has already lost one of its canneries when federally mandated minimum wages were imposed on American Samoa "without first determining its deleterious effects on the lives of the people".

The governor went on to point out that some five years ago President Bush used provisions of federal law to create the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, taking away about 13,451 square miles of water which extend 50 miles from the mean low water of Rose Atoll, considered part of the Manu’a islands archipelago which comprises the "traditional fishing grounds of our people".

"This type of insensitive decision continues to epitomize 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 wrote.

"It is also demoralizing and quite disturbing that the proponents for the expansion of the PRIMNM are individuals who have no basic understanding of what such actions will do to the lives of the people who will be shattered by these ‘feel good’ national initiatives," he said.

Lolo also complained to Obama that the federal government held only one-town hall meeting on the PRIMNM in Hawai’i (in August), but none in American Samoa or the other effected U.S. Pacific islands.

Lolo went on to point out that the White House Council on Environmental Quality, then chaired by Jim Connaughton, along with the PEW Environment group, made many promises to the governments and the people of the territories regarding the benefits inherent in a marine monument, among which included a visitor’s center, millions of dollars of revenue and equal participation in the co-management of these national assets.

"After six years these promises continue to be illusive and remain to be fulfilled," he said.

He also said the proposed expansion of the PRIMNM will close off waters that are "essential fishing grounds for the US purse seiner fleet" that bring fish to American Samoa’s canneries, which constitute the economic engine of the territory, employing one-third of the local workforce.

As a US territory, "we have no vote on the floor of Congress, but we hope that as a person who grew up in the US Pacific islands, you will recall the intrinsic importance of the sea to Pacific Islanders, not only for their substance living, but also for the economic survival of our islands; restricted by having small land areas, far removed from the economic mainstream, and lacking any other natural resources," Lolo wrote to Obama.

"I implore you, Mr. President to please ‘not’ expand the existing monument or create new marine national monuments in the U.S. Pacific islands," he concluded.

Copies of the governor’s letter were also sent to Congressional members for American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Hawai’i, and the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council.

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