The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would allow the use of a net mesh, or surround nets, for catching atulai during their seasonal runs through the CNMI.
Rep. Roman Benavente’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 21-30 HD1 would allow the use of surround nets with a mesh no smaller than 1.5 inches when stretched only for catching the bigeye scad fish, locally known as atulai, during their seasonal run through the CNMI.
The legislation passed the House on a vote of 12-5. It now goes to the Senate for action.
Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) voted against the legislation, which she referred to as a “short-term thinking” bill.
“I first want to note that the only comments submitted for the record came from the [Office of the Attorney General], and that the recommendations of the [OAG] were not incorporated into the legislation. I respectfully ask that the author of the bill include the [OAG] recommendations,” Sablan said.
Saipan Tribune was unable to obtain a copy of the OAG’s recommendations but, according to Sablan, it referred to clarifying the use of surround nets only for the seasonal run of atulais.
Sablan noted that the OAG found the assessment of a minimum fee of $5 for “…all other participants of the fishing venture” as “problematic.”
“I continue to be troubled by the lack of engagement from the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife,” she noted.
Sablan pointed out that DFW director Manny Pangelinan reportedly told her that his office was not approached to comment on the bill. Sablan characterized allowing the use of the net as an “abuse” of the sea, which she finds “unsavory.”
The session was recessed to solicit last-minute comments from Pangelinan, whose comments were recorded for the session.
Responding to Sablan, the bill’s author, Benavente, noted that he was a fisherman and that he has worked with DFW for “the longest time.”
“Bigeye scad is a migratory species—it lives outside in the deeper water. It is not stationary within the lagoon area; this type of fish only comes into the CNMI during its seasonal runs and sometimes…you won’t see it at all for a period of five years,” he said.
Benavente further noted that net fishing is legal for catching certain types of fish on Saipan, and that it is heavily monitored.
“They monitor…the amount of catch per day and the size limit of their catch. So if you are worrying about this type of activity, it will be monitored,” he told Sablan.
After Benavente’s comments, Sablan proposed to return the bill to the committee for further review. The motion was ultimately defeated with a vote of 6-10.