"Our economy is dependent on the tuna industry" Gov
American Samoa’s economy is dependent on the tuna industry, said Governor Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga at the opening of the 195th Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council meeting. Lemanu said StarKist Samoa is the largest private sector employer supporting one-third of our workforce.
The two-day meeting is held at the Lee Auditorium, where the 16 council members are in the territory to address fishery issues and hold public consultations on the federal government’s proposal impacting the local economy.
Lemanu said during his remarks that studies have shown that without the tuna industry, the cost of living will triple at the least. It is our responsibility as leaders to provide for the economic stability of the territory equitably and sustainably for all parties, including the underserved and marginalized indigenous people that live here.
Lemanu welcomed Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, as well as the Council Family to the territory. He urged them to also visit the National Park, marine sanctuary and the beautiful outer islands in Manu'a, Rose Atoll and maybe even Swains.
"Our Samoan ancestors who were great navigators landed in these shores 3,000 years ago and found our shores teeming with fish and marine life.
"The beauty and importance of these natural resources cannot be understated. The ocean and its marine resources have sustained our Fa'asamoa for thousands of years.
"Our legends and cultural practices and even how we direct our daily lives revolve around the ocean and fishing.
"These abundant natural resource have provided food on our table and supported our people, especially during calamities.
"Our community went back to farming and fishing when we closed our borders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ocean is what has sustained us and will continue to do so for years to come. "Compared to Guam, CNMI and Hawaii, our nearshore and boat-based fisheries are very small in scale perhaps due to lower population and small tourism industry. But our fisheries participation is declining. " According to governor, bottomfishing is down to one commercial boat.
"We are happy and not at all surprised that our bottom fish stocks have been recently declared NOT overfished nor experiencing overfishing given its low fishing activity. I thank the Science Center, Council and DMWR for working hard over the last few years to make that determination.
"After thousands of years, global climate change is imminent and putting pressure on our islands.
"Extreme weather and climate is already damaging physical infrastructure such as roads, utilities, properties, homes and opportunity costs in agriculture and fisheries.
"Our high vulnerability could lead to widespread food and water insecurity, increased health risks, lack of access to social services and even forced displacements in some cases. Due to climate change, the ocean that has sustained us for millennium is now threatening our daily lives. Our carbon footprint is very, very small.
"Yet, we are on the verge of bearing the brunt of these climate impacts due to the emissions of industrialized nations. We require more support and coordination for increased access to climate adaptation strategies, mitigation data and knowledge."
He said American Samoa's economy is dependent on the tuna industry.
"It is the largest private sector employer and supports one-third of our workforce. Studies have shown that without the tuna industry, the cost of living will triple at the least. "It is our responsibility as leaders to provide for the economic stability of the territory in an equitable and sustainable way for all parties, including the underserved, and marginalized indigenous people that live here.
"This economic pillar is being threatened, not by actions of other nations — but by our own."
The governor cited the two proposed actions of the federal government will devastate the territory.
"The proposed rule on the Effort Limit Area for Purse Seiners (ELAPS) and the proposed National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands are on course to negatively impact the tuna fleet that supports our local cannery, potentially pushing them further away to a point that it will no longer be economical for them to land their catch here on island."
On the ELAPS issue, Lemanu queried NMFS why they won't regulate the US purse seine fleet that supports American Samoa as a locally-based fleet, however he is yet to receive a response.
"This fleet provides about 75% of the tuna needed for the cannery production, so it is critical for the continued viability of the industry.
"To clearly identify this local fleet, we have created a local record of those vessels that support our economy by issuing tuna landing licenses. "This requirement became effective on June 14th. "Thank you to those vessel owners that have supported this economy for decades. "I understand that some of you are in attendance today, Fa'afetai Tele lava.
Speaking of the proposed National Marine Sanctuary, we have received the data report from the NOAA Science Center that shows fishing effort and catch within Pacific Remote Islands area.
"This official dataset shows that the percentage of retained catch for the local purse seiner fleet in these waters was as much as 25% at one point.
"Most, if not all, of the fish caught in these waters is landed in the territory. More importantly, fishing effort by the purse seiners has increased over the past few years and that increasing catch continues to benefit the local cannery.
"The misinformation that has been circulated by the proponents of this sanctuary is insulting and misconstrues the reality of the importance of these waters to our territory.
"This ‘fake news’ circulated by the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition fails to recognize that almost all the fish caught in those waters are landed here in American Samoa."
He said it provides jobs, helps build communities and more importantly puts food on the table.
"The fishing effort and retained catch helps sustain our fragile economy. That may not be important to them, but for me and my people — that is very, very important.
"The proposed sanctuary scoping meeting that was recently held on island showed strong opposition and solidarity against this federal action.
"The whole process seems to have been rushed without proper due diligence on what impacts this action will have. I have written to NOAA for an extension on the comment period, but again, no response.
"What saddens me the most about these federal actions is that they have been done without meaningful consultation and engagement of our people.
"There is no equity and justice served when the people that these federal actions will impact have no say, and no voice.
"These policies and actions have profound impacts on fragile communities such as ours. Respect is a very important aspect to the Pacific people, and I call on our federal partners to show some respect— sit down with us, talk with us and not to us. If the Administration is serious about equity and environmental justice, then I call on them to do proper due diligence. That includes an urgent need to conduct an economic impact study on both of these proposed policies and how that will affect our indigenous populations."
To the Council, Lemanu said the founding principles of the Magnuson Stevens Act are just as relevant today as they were when it became law almost 50 years ago.
"They all remain very important, but National Standard 8 really stands out to me and it reads: “Conservation and management measures shall...take into account the importance offishery resources to fishing communities.”
"You must be mindful of the decisions that you make, Council and the federal government alike, so that the interests of small fishing communities are not disregarded.
"American Samoa is a fishing community that is almost totally dependent on the tuna industry. We should not be carrying a disproportionate burden and bear the brunt for fulfilling administrative commitments, whatever they may be.
"As a leader, my challenge is to find ways to sustain our economy, provide for our people and maintain our resilience through these difficulties.
"I charge this Council to put that on your agenda not only for this week, but for the future. Like we do in our culture, we bring in our elders and we hear their collective knowledge and wisdom.
"Hopefully, by the end of this meeting we see some light at the end of the tunnel to address and overcome these challenges."
Lemanu concluded with an ancient Samoan proverb still used today that relate to the ocean and fishing. “
"Aua ie naunau ile i'a, ae manumanu ile zzpego.” In the context of what I just spoke about and the work that you all do, this proverb is a reminder that any action you do has consequences. It warns the fisherman not to become so hung up on the catch that he forgets the importance of keeping the net safe and secured for another day.
"For without the net, he will not be able to provide for his family and village. It calls for wisdom. It calls for foresight. But it also calls for extreme caution."
Adding that the tuna industry can be compared to a net that has provided for American Samoa for decades. It is very important.
"We need to protect that net and keep it safe so that opportunities for the territory is sustained. "So, I call on our federal government, the Council and everyone to use your God-given wisdom. Use your foresight. But exercise extreme caution. Like the proverb says: “Aua Ie naunau ile i'a, ae manumanu ile upega.”