Sea Touch Saipan LLC’s proposed $1.125-million shark and stingray marine park project off the beach of Fiesta Resort & Saipan has resulted in an uneasy conflict pitting local fishermen against one another.
Rep. Ramon Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) is at the forefront of a group of local fisherman not necessarily opposed to the project but is asking the company to move it a “few yards” north were the Hyatt Regency Saipan waterfront is.
Tebuteb reiterated his concerns about the Sea Touch project during Tuesday night’s Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs public hearing on Sea Touch’s submerged land lease agreement with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The lawmaker submitted to the committee a petition letter signed by over 100 fishermen requesting Sea Touch to consider moving the location of the temporary holding pens for the sharks and stingrays from the waterfront of Fiesta Resort, which they claim is traditional fishing ground.
Tebuteb’s and his group’s position is being countered by other fishermen such as former lieutenant governor Diego Benavente and Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan).
In an email to Saipan Tribune last night, Tebuteb said: “Please note that I learned of this traditional fishing grounds from one of Diego’s fishing mentor, the late Mr. Jacinto Taman. I have fished all my life in most of our waters, from ankle deep to the deep ocean. I am a certified diver and used to dive for Mr. Ben Concepcion, one of the founding pioneers of our famous scuba dive spots. Jess Tudela, whom I mentioned last night, authorized me to use his name on behalf of our expressed concern to relocate. …These are but a few [fishermen supporting our cause],” he said.
Tebuteb, who chairs he the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, also belittled the testimony of Benavente and Baldyga Group special projects director Troy Williams during Tuesday’s public hearing. Baldyga Group, which also operated SandCastle Saipan, owns Sea Touch.
“Former speaker Benavente and Mr. Troy Williams’ words are just that, versus fishermen who actually choose to do this kind of lifestyle. Some of these concerned fishermen access this area by simply walking there, unlike the investor-lobbyists ($65,000 per annum) and staff. Some are retirees of [Division of Fish and Wildlife] who have conducted studies and surveys of our waters. [They are] more than qualified, just like the experts mentioned last night.”
Benavente, for his part, said he doesn’t really understand the motive of Tebuteb and his group. He said Williams and other experts already made it abundantly clear that moving the project to the waters off Hyatt is not viable and that the marine park will not have a major impact on marine life in the area.
Benavente, who like Tebuteb is a lifelong fisherman, added that the Fiesta Resort area is already commercialized, what with the jet ski, banana boat, and beach activity area already present in its vicinity.
“Fishermen who understand common sense should know that this is the ideal place for this kind of project,” he told Saipan Tribune over the phone last night.