Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter sent to NOAA, he cites deficiencies with NOAA’s proposed plans to revise the terms of designation for the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS). NOAA’s proposed rule would effectively add five new sanctuary units consisting of more than 13,000 square miles of marine areas in the Territory. The letter was addressed to NOAA’s Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, with copies to Governor Togiola, Lt. Governor Faoa, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker and members of the House.
“I want to first thank everyone that attended our town hall meeting on January 11, 2012, for their participation and for expressing their views on this important matter,” Faleomavaega said. “The observations I submitted to NOAA are based on the testimonies and views expressed at the town hall meeting, emails and comments received by my office, and further review of the Draft Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DMP/DEIS).”
“Overall, I want to highlight five key areas of concern with NOAA’s proposal. While there are other critical questions with potential legal and political ramifications, my concerns are mainly to do with the procedural requirements that Congress put in place to hold NOAA accountable,” Faleomavaega said.
“First, the overall consultation process failed to fully engage and gain the trust of the village councils, affected communities and families. Acceptance of the proposal by the people is critical. Consultations and discussions with the local communities and resource users to consider their situations and needs are critical to its success. Based on the comments and views expressed during the town hall meeting, there is a greater need to continue the consultation process.”
“Second, NOAA did not provide clear evidence to justify its proposal. Despite repeated requests with NOAA officials, I was not provided clear reasons for adding five new sites. It was never clearly articulated whether there was any problem to justify immediate federal intervention. It seems unreasonable therefore to create another layer of management with more restrictions that could lead to economic paralysis and destabilize economic growth in the Territory.”
“Third, NOAA’s proposal to revise the terms of designation for the FBNMS did not fully comply with the statutory requirements for designation under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). These statutory requirements are available to ensure accountability to the needs of the local communities, especially those that are directly affected. However, there is no comprehensive analysis of cost and benefits, resource assessment, and socio-economic assessment which would have provided a better picture to evaluate the full impact of the proposal. The lack thereof such critical assessment only increases the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the proposal, and made more glaring the potential risk to the local communities.”
“Fourth, NOAA’s proposed rule will put more regulatory burden on the affected communities. While I appreciate the importance of creating a network of sanctuary units in the Territory, it could also create a financial and social burden on many people and villages that traditionally fish in these marine areas. In particular, it is a known fact that about 80% of American Samoa’s private sector depends on fishing. Moreover, many families and individuals still depend on subsistence fishing.”
“Finally, NOAA’s proposal would require better coordination with other federal agencies to avoid the overlapping of jurisdiction and responsibilities. For this reason, it is my hope that NOAA would continue to consult and work together with the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and all other federal agencies to resolve any unintended consequences. This is important to ensure better coordination and effective delivery of federal services and programs in the Territory.”
“In sum, while I appreciate the stated goals of this proposal, especially the preservation and protection of our marine resources, it is important nevertheless to gain the trust and support of our people. Consultations and discussions with all stakeholders are critical to the success of the proposal, and it is my hope therefore that NOAA will continue the consultation process,” Faleomavaega said.
Faleomavaega concluded his comments by stating that “I thank you for the opportunity to submit my comments and I look forward to working with you on this important matter.”