Thursday, July 15, 2010

Something Smells Fishy

Bree Reynolds, one the all-time Beautify CNMI all-stars, is in Washington, DC this week for an education conference. Last night she and I met up with some other former Saipan residents for dinner at the Bilbo Baggins restaurant in Old Alexandria. We laughed about the good old days and reminisced on some of our favorite stories from the last few years, including Harry Blalock's Crab Eviction and the Great Napoleonic War of 2008.

I got home late and before crashing into bed, checked the Saipan news to see if anything interesting was going on. A story about a scuba diver getting bent and dying caught my eye.

The Saipan news is always a day or so behind, but the Guam-based Pacific Daily News was reporting that a man who had been night diving outside the Tanapag lagoon went to the hospital showing symptoms of decompression sickness and then died four hours later. My first thought was, "a night dive outside the Tanapag lagoon?"

Who dives outside the Tanapag lagoon, never mind a night dive outside the Tanapag lagoon? Nobody. Nobody dives there during the day. Nobody dives there at night. Nobody.

You can probably guess what was really going on without me spelling it out. Four days ago I wrote the following words:
A sizeable portion of fish for sale at roadside stands are caught with scuba spearfishing, which is theoretically illegal. In fact, freediving spearfishmen like Felix, Morito the shark feeder, and Troy complain about how the commercial fishermen have an unfair competitive advantage over them because they break the law and how they are the ones truly responsible for the collapse of Saipan's fishery.
This guy was obviously fishing with scuba and like I have mentioned in previous posts, fishing with scuba in the Northern Mariana Islands is illegal.

I checked the news again this morning to get the full story. A report appears in the Thursday, July 16 editions of both the Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety, but neither paper questions why somebody would be night diving outside the Tanapag Lagoon. The deceased's employer, who was one of my opponents in the 2009 Saipan Mayor campaign, is quoted in the Marianas Variety saying that the deceased was, "a very good and a hardworking employee. He was excellent in bottom-fishing, trolling, and in diving." No reason is given as to why the deceased was scuba diving at night in a place where people don't usually scuba dive. Only the TV news, KSPN, suggests that he may have been fishing. They bring up the fact that the deceased was employed as a fisherman and that scuba spearfishing is illegal.

saipan fishingIn fact, the deceased was a very good fisherman. A very, very, very good fisherman. Here he is with one day's catch. The photo is ripped from his employer's Facebook page.

I get angry when people break the fishing rules. I also get upset when the local government doesn't enforce the law. It would be incorrect to call Saipan lawless, because Saipan has plenty of laws. Saipan just doesn't have much enforcement.

I am interested to see what happens here. Environmental laws were clearly being broken, but the employer is from a prominent family, but much like me, has been out of sorts with the Fitial Administration. I wonder if this will get swept under the rug or if something will actually be done. Will the Division of Fish & Wildlife cite the owners of the company, the managers, the employees or nobody at all? I wonder.

Local fisherman should be up in arms that one of their own is breaking the law to gain an unfair advantage over them. The scuba ban was put in place to create a so-called "human-limit marine protected area." The idea was to restrict the allowable catch to those fish that can be caught with one breath, giving fish a refuge at depth to grow and reproduce. Since the ban on scuba isn't being enforced, this "marine protected area" doesn't exist and thus the claims by the local Division of Fish & Wildlife that they are managing our waters are moot. What is the point of having management if management is not enforced?

This type of reckless, greedy behavior has done more to destroy the Chamorro culture than the influence of any other culture, Asian or Western (yes, that is a dig). Here is a description of the Tanapag Lagoon from Tanapag elder Pete Teigita:
"In those days there were a lot of fish," Pete recounts. "We didn’t need to use a net. You could go out free diving and catch a lot of big fish. You could choose what kind of fish you wanted to catch. We did spear fishing mostly during daytime. Sometimes we’d go at nighttime when we needed to catch what we call hiteng, rabbit fish. Sometimes we go outside the reef just to catch lobster and things like that."
Compare that to the Tanapag of today, where in order to catch fish fisherman have to go outside of the lagoon to the open ocean. How much culture has been lost already, do you really want to lose even more?

1 comment:

bigsoxfan said...

I was just happy that his dive partner wasn't Bruce B. and I'm hopeful that he wasn't poisoned by his own tools. It is amazing the lengths people will go to in order to have saleable fish. Night hunting and dynamite fishing is an accepted tool in the southern US, but cyanide poisoning is just not cool.
He will be answering to a higher power than fish and game at this point, but the boss who sent him out, has his meeting delayed.