Letter to the Editor: The NMI Marine Conservation Plan and Foreign Fishing: The misinformation just keeps on comingThe more this guy writes the more people think he's full of hot air. Notice he doesn't deny that the CNMI just opened their waters to foreign fishing, he just walks you through the process that led to this travesty. Then he claims that it would be difficult to follow through with the plan. Aren't most plans difficult?
IT has come to my attention that a member of our local blog community believes it is necessary to scare the people of the Marianas with all forms of imagined threats from foreign fishing activities.
His personal misinformation campaign appears to be based on a (complete?) lack of knowledge related to the recent federal approval of the CNMI’s marine conservation plan. The news story was titled “Feds approve 3-year marine conservation plan for CNMI.”
I should first state that this letter is not about my opinion on foreign fishing issues — I did not express any. Nor is it about whether the CNMI government is advocating foreign fishing — I don’t know and I do not represent the government. It is more about getting correct information out to the public concerning the recent renewal of the CNMI’s marine conservation plan.
I found the news story factual, informative, and very straightforward. The article focused on federal approval of the CNMI marine conservation plan and did not discuss anything about foreign fishing opportunities opening up in the CNMI. Unfortunately, it was the subsequent distortion of facts and public dissemination of misleading information by the Pew CNMI coordinator that I found disturbing. All of a sudden the simple action of federal approval for a required tri-annual renewal of a marine conservation plan that guides how revenue from foreign fishing activities would be spent in the CNMI was transformed into:
“The [news story] unearths the fact that NOAA has approved opening the Exclusive Economic Zone around the Northern Mariana Islands to foreign fishing.”
“NOAA has approved opening the Exclusive Economic Zone around the Northern Mariana Islands to foreign fishing.”
“And how Dr. Jane Lubchenco is going to end overfishing in American waters. Meanwhile, we just opened our waters to foreign fishing vessels.”
“If you think that it is because you were listening to the guys that successfully just sold your waters off to foreign countries.”
“Last week it was announced that the Wespac proposal to open up CNMI waters to foreign fishing vessels was approved by Governor Fitial and NOAA. …. Yet six months later they are trying to sell off our waters to foreign countries.”
“The New York Times recently published an editorial about overfishing. As you read it, keep in mind that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands recently approved a plan to open up the United States Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding our islands to foreign fishing.”
First of all, foreign fishing in our Exclusive Economic Zone can only be authorized through the signing of an international fishing agreement known as a Pacific Insular Area Fishing Agreement, or PIAFA, as allowed in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The CNMI has never had a PIAFA and it is my understanding that none are under development for the CNMI.
Second, the act of renewing (i.e., federal approval) the CNMI’s marine conservation plan by NOAA did not suddenly open up our EEZ to foreign fishing. In fact, our EEZ is not any more open to foreign fishing then the time of the CNMI’s first marine conservation plan in 1999. This original plan was subsequently reviewed and again approved in 2002, 2005 and most recently, 2008 as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Third, the marine conservation plan is an action plan that only addresses how revenue generated from foreign fishing activities would be spent by the local government — nothing more, nothing less. It does not authorize foreign fishing activities and is not an indicator that the CNMI government is actively pursuing foreign fishing.
The following brief overview is offered:
What is a Pacific Insular Area Fishery Agreement or PIAFA?
A PIAFA is the official document (i.e., International agreement) that authorizes foreign fishing activities in Pacific insular area EEZ’s. The PIAFA provision [Section 204:104-297] was added to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1996 and is only valid for the Pacific insular areas (i.e., CNMI, Guam, American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Island Areas).
This agreement is negotiated by the Secretary of State and must have concurrence from the Secretary of Commerce, and the Governor of the Pacific Insular Area to which the PIAFA applies. In addition, the WPRFMC must be consulted during the development process. Prior to PIAFA approval, the fisheries council must make a determination that such an agreement will not adversely affect the fishing activities of the indigenous people within the Pacific insular area that is considering a PIAFA.
Local control over any proposed foreign fishing activities within the EEZ of Pacific insular areas is assured by the Magnuson-Stevens Act through veto power granted to the Governor over any PIAFA within their jurisdiction
Prior to 1996, all revenue generated from any foreign fishing agreement was to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury. PIAFAs are designed so that any foreign fishing revenue flows back to the Pacific Island territory and not into the U.S. Treasury. How these revenues are spent is governed by a marine conservation plan developed by each Pacific insular area.
What is a marine conservation plan?
The Magnuson-Stevens Act [Section 204: 104-479 (4)(A)] requires each Pacific insular area to develop a marine conservation plan that identifies a list of prioritized projects or programs that addresses specific conservation needs of the insular area where foreign fishing may be authorized. The sole purpose of the plan is to provide detailed guidelines for the expenditure of any revenue received from foreign fishing activities via a PIAFA. The marine conservation plan ensures that all funds are spent appropriately, according to the approved plan and not usurped by the local government for non-conservation projects. As required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, these plans are to be updated, reviewed, and approved every three years by the WPRFMC and National Marine Fisheries Service.
The CNMI’s newly approved marine conservation plan contains 12 objectives that are consistent with the existing Marianas archipelago fishery management plans. To meet these objectives, the CNMI has identified and prioritized 22 projects for potential funding.
Although a marine conservation plan is required prior to approval of a PIAFA, the recent federal approval of the CNMI’s marine conservation plan can not and does not authorize any foreign fishing activities within our EEZ. Additionally, the recent renewal of the CNMI’s marine conservation plan, the third iteration since the 1999 plan, was simply to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
What if foreign fishing is allowed in the CNMI?
Should foreign fishing ever be authorized in our EEZ, those vessels would have to toe the line as far as fishing to the same standard as U.S. vessels in terms of permits, reporting, observer deployment, VMS, bycatch and protected species mitigation, area/seasonal closures, and a myriad of other regulations. With respect to commercial fishing activities, the US fishing fleet is one of the most regulated in the world. Not surprisingly, no foreign fishing entity has even bothered to negotiate a PIAFA because it’s unlikely they could get their vessels to match
U.S. vessels in terms of the high standards we require of U.S. fishing vessels. I am not claiming that foreign fishing will never occur in the CNMI EEZ, it’s just that foreign entities won’t be knocking the door down to be the first in line for a PIAFA.
Should foreign vessels ever be authorized to fish in our EEZ, they will not be allowed free reign over the taking of our marine resources and their actions will be tightly controlled and monitored.
With that being said, I will leave you with one last quote: “Imagine watching Taiwanese fishing vessels mining our waters from the shores of Beach Road. That is what these new regulations are going to allow.”
As with other sensationalized claims the Pew CNMI Coordinator has made on this issue, the above statement is utter nonsense. His campaign of creating an atmosphere of fear in our community is irresponsible. It is just another underhanded attempt at trying to scare people in supporting his (i.e., Pew Environment Group) push to expand the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument boundaries out to 200 miles and the implementation of additional draconian no-fishing regulations.
I truly appreciate someone taking the time to learn about the issues and then voicing their opinion in an open and honest manner — whether I personally agree with them or not. This approach provides an opportunity for rational community discussion and educated decisions based on facts. Based on his blog postings, it is obvious that the Pew CNMI coordinator does not believe in this approach.
Navy Hill, Saipan
By the way, I love it that John hangs on my every word. I also love it that Kitty Simonds thinks I'm hot.