Friday, December 03, 2010

Stupid Donut Holes Again

When I first read the submerged lands bill submitted by Delegate Kilili last year I was concerned that it would cut three gaping donut holes out of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, right in the area with the highest biodiversity and biomass. I raised this issue with the Delegate and he assured me that nothing in his bill would change the monument declaration signed by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009. I'll give Sablan the benefit of the doubt and agree that his bill would not immediately turn President Bush's ocean legacy into Swiss cheese, nonetheless it could lead to a scenario where the islands are constitutionally protected, the federal waters are presidentially protected, and everything in between is open to commercial fishing and other damaging activities.

My reasoning comes directly from the proclamation language (second page, last paragraph):
"Submerged lands that by legislation are subsequently granted by the United States to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands but remain controlled by the United States under the Antiquities Act may remain part of the monument, for coordination of management with the Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. (emphasis added)"
The word may was the big concession that Governor Fitial negotiated. May was used instead of shall so that down the road the CNMI would have the option of keeping the area protected as a part of the monument or opening it up to commercial fishing, coral harvesting, or other types of non-sustainable activity. May is not what the people of the CNMI wanted and it is not what 6000 people signed their name to support. May is something that was put in at the last minute to appease Governor Fitial and a handful of aides with close ties to the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council.

Delegate Kilili is the highest federal official representing the Northern Mariana Islands. I do not want him to pass off to someone else the decision on whether the submerged lands surrounding Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion may or may not remain a part of the monument. The local leaders on Saipan are too volatile to make an informed decision. They are swayed by blood ties and petty feuds and rarely make decisions based on their merits.

I want Kilili to show leadership and make the decision. Will the submerged lands surrounding the three islands remain or not remain a part of the monument? He should not leave the decision up to someone else.

My position on this issue has been clear since before the monument was declared. The submerged lands surrounding the three islands should be granted to the Northern Mariana Islands, but remain a part of the monument to be co-mananged by the federal and commonwealth governments. The submerged lands bill in its current form does not accomplish this, nor does it provide guidance on who gets to define may, whether it be the US Congress, the US President, the Commonwealth Governor, or possibly the Mayor of Rota.

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