CNMI Governor Says Federal Government Has Failed On Marine Monument Promises

CNMI Senate passes resolution opposing Monument, seeking return of indigenous fishing rights

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 12, 2017) – Governor Ralph D.L.G. Torres said the federal government has failed to provide the necessary resources to realize the promises made to the CNMI during the negotiations which led to the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument or MTMNM.

In his July 11, 2017 letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the governor said a co-management plan has yet to be established.

Moreover, Torres said, there is still no increase in patrols to discourage illegal fishing in the waters of the CNMI, “and other incentives such as the building of a visitor center in the CNMI could help make up for the loss of access to our natural resources.”

Torres said although the CNMI “does in general support the environmental goals and protections behind the creation of the MTMNM as good stewards, we have since the designation of this monument under the Antiquities Act been required to carry the burden of an over-expansive federal program that should be reassessed. I trust that your report will note the CNMI’s concerns about lost economic opportunities and restrictions on historical and traditional fishing practices.”

Torres’ letter was submitted as part of the federal review of the creation of the marine monument conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation with the U.S. Interior secretary.

[PIR editor's note: On July 12, 2017 Marianas Variety reported that 'The Senate on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling for the restoration of the CNMI’s fishing rights and mineral-extraction rights that were taken away when the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was established in 2009. ... The resolution also opposes the establishment of any national marine sanctuary in the CNMI.']

The governor told Zinke that the CNMI’s “participation and negotiation with our federal counterparts to ensure the inclusion of our preferences and desires have in all honesty been stretched thin throughout the process. Nonetheless, we remain persistent in our efforts because we are greatly concerned about the possibility of losing access to the waters for fishing purposes and to the natural resources contained in the three units.”

Presidential Proclamation 8335 established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in Jan. 2009.

The proclamation assigned management responsibility to the secretary of the Interior in consultation with the secretary of Commerce.

The Interior secretary placed the Mariana Trench and volcanic units within the National Wildlife Refuge System and delegated management responsibility to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The secretary of Commerce through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has primary management responsibility for fishery-related activities in the waters and submerged lands of the island units.

Torres said for almost 10 years now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA have been working together with the CNMI government, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the U.S. Coast Guard and others to develop a monument management plan.

“Today, the work remains unfinished on a management plan that is supposed to provide for public education programs, traditional access by indigenous persons, scientific exploration and research, consideration of recreational fishing if it will not detract from the monument and programs for monitoring and enforcement,” Torres said.

He added that the CNMI has not yet actually received the formal patent to the submerged lands extending from the northern islands of Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas), Maug and Asuncion.

“Even though we have since been granted rights to the submerged lands, access to the natural resources in those submerged lands are now restricted and the monument’s prohibitions on mineral extraction in all three units takes away potential economic opportunities for the CNMI. Such a result must be reconsidered,” the governor said.

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