Inos asks Obama not to expand Pacific marine monument

Governor says last-minute promises in 2008 ‘broken, remain unfulfilled’

Gov. Eloy S. Inos asked President Barack Obama not to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument which the governor believes is “the first step in expanding other marine national monuments in the western Pacific,” while at the same time lamenting that most of the promises made leading to the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in 2009 were “broken and remain unfulfilled.”

The CNMI’s three northernmost islands of Maug, Uracas, and Asuncion are part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument that the Bush White House designated in 2009.

“On behalf of the affected communities in the western Pacific who believe in the sustainable use of marine resources, I urge you to reconsider your proposal to expand the boundaries of the PRIMNM or any other marine monument,” Inos said in an Aug. 15 letter to Obama, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Aug. 15 was the last day for comment submissions to the president’s proposal to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument seaward to the 200-nautical mile boundary of the exclusive economic zone.

Inos said with great respect to congressional laws, the “unilateral top-down approach in designating marine monuments via the Antiquities Act for conservation purposes is an affront to Pacific Island communities.”

“We believe that wise conservation doesn’t necessarily have to be about preservation and establishing no-take marine protected areas,” the governor added.

Embracing the use of existing management regimes such as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, he said, will help ensure sustainable harvests.

Rep. Anthony Benavente (Ind-Saipan), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said yesterday he supports the governor’s position, adding that his committee will be recommending full House adoption of Rep. Richard Seman’s (R-Saipan) joint resolution that basically asks Obama not to go ahead with his marine monument expansion plan.

Benavente echoed Seman’s earlier sentiment that outgoing presidents always want legacies such as Bush’s ocean legacy that led to marine monument designations, and he said it is no different with Obama.

“While the Aug. 15 deadline for comment submission has passed, we would still be moving ahead with the recommendation to the full House to adopt the resolution,” Benavente said in a phone interview.

Benavente was referring to Seman’s House Joint Resolution 18-19, which asks Obama to withdraw his proposed marine monument expansion.

Obama’s proposed expansion deals with the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument which is south and west of Hawaii, protecting areas around Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, and Wake Island.

Like the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was also established by President Bush in 2009.

‘Paper park’

In his two-page letter, Inos said the Marianas archipelago is home of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument which he describes as a “paper park that has been mostly neglected since it was designated in 2009.”

“The former Administration was only able to gain local support for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument after a series of promises were made at the last minute during December 2008. To date, most of those promises were broken and remain unfulfilled,” Inos told the president.

Fisheries, he said, are very important to the CNMI economy, especially due to its geography which puts it between three and four hours flying time from every East and Southeast Asian country.

The governor said the CNMI has a history of supporting U.S. tuna fisheries, including pole-and-line fishing, purse seining and long lining.

“The continued loss of U.S. waters reduces the attractiveness to the CNMI of supporting these fisheries and industries. While other Pacific islands are actively developing their tuna fisheries with strong support from their governments, the U.S. appears to be more intent on arbitrarily closing commercial fishing ventures based on an East Coast conservation paradigm,” Inos added.

Regional concern

Inos also said that the president’s proposed expansion is of great concern not only to the CNMI but also to those he has talked to in Guam, Hawaii, and American Samoa.

“Noticeable impacts will likely be experienced by the Hawaii longline fleet, as well as the tuna cannery in American Samoa. Less obvious will be the continued gradual deterioration of Pacific Island culture and tradition as more waters in the western Pacific are taken out of sustainable use in the name of conservation,” he said.

The governor also said that although the western Pacific represents different island cultures, the common thread that binds them together is their island heritage, strong cultural association with the sea, respect for the environment, and the belief in the sustainable use of natural resources.

“I find it ironic that the primary purpose of Congress for passing the Antiquities Act was specifically to protect the culture and heritage of Native American Indians. Now, one hundred and eight years later, this very same law is being used to threaten the culture and heritage of native Pacific islanders,” Inos said.

He added that Pacific island communities are strong and proven advocates of conservation, and have an active and effective collaborative approach to conservation that is based on heritage and sustainable use of natural resources.

Copies of the governor’s letter to Obama were also sent to Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, American Samoa Gov. Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), CNMI Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), CNMI House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, DLNR Secretary Arnold Palacios, and Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council executive director Kitty Simonds.

The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, whose voting members include Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the CNMI, earlier said that expanding Pacific marine sanctuaries betrays U.S. fishermen.

They said the plan would provide no added conservation benefit to marine resources, but will economically harm the area’s fishermen and those reliant on Pacific marine resources.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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