[Coral-List] American Samoa moving towards complete protection of big fishes

Charles Birkeland charlesb at hawaii.edu
Wed Aug 29 20:13:33 EDT 2007

American Samoa moving towards complete protection of big fishes

American Samoa might become the first territory to give complete protection to all large species of reef fishes in all seasons throughout the territory. At the recent US Coral Reef Task Force meeting in American Samoa (20-23 August), Governor Togiola Tulafono announced that the Government of American Samoa is beginning the process of protecting the big fishes (humphead wrasses, bumphead parrotfishes, giant grouper, giant trevallies, and six species of sharks). The local Samoan population expressed themselves with splendid eloquence at two public hearings in April 2001 in protest of the depletion of big fishes by a small group of commercial fishermen using high tech nightlights and scuba. These big fishes are now rare and therefore they are especially vulnerable to additional harvest. Because of this, Ray Tulafono, Director of the Division of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), will begin a process of hearings and consultations, working towards placing complete protection f
or the big fishes listed above.

Consideration of protection of big fishes is based on strong scientific evidence. Doug Fenner, Acting Chief Biologist at DMWR, working on a NOAA Coral Reef Monitoring Grant, had been diligently compiling information on the depletion of big reef fishes around American Samoa, reviewing all the available scientific information from research at DMWR, from other scientists in the territory, and from the research of visiting scientists over the years. The most compelling scientific support for this decision came from a massive report under review at this time (R. Brainard et al. 2007 Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Report for American Samoa: 2002-2006. NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Special Report NMFS PIFSC. 504 pp). Replicate surveys (2002, 2004, 2006) around the American Samoan, Hawaiian, and Marianas Archipelagoes, as well as isolated islands such as Wake, Palmyra, Kingman Reef, Jarvis, Baker, Howland, consisted of  tow-board transects and visual benthic transec
ts. The independent survey methods both clearly demonstrated an inverse correlation between human population sizes and the presence of big fishes of all species.  Ray Tulafono reviewed the evidence with the DMWR biologists and all agreed these species need to be protected because they are rare.

This latest action is consistent with other responsible measures by the Government of American Samoa. In 2000 and Executive Order (EO) by the Governor banned collection of  "live rock" for export to the aquarium market. In 2001, an EO banned scuba-assisted fishing. In 2003, an EO was given to protect sea turtles and marine mammals in territorial waters. This EO reiterated the need for protection and public education regarding these federally protected endangered species. In 2003, another EO was given to ban shark finning in territorial waters.

Pacific islanders live close to their resources and therefore have a relatively clear perception of the status of the surrounding marine life. A number of island cultures around the tropical Pacific have traditions of responsible resource management. I have heard that Palau now protects all of its reef sharks because tourism is an important part of its economy. Niue protects humphead wrasses. Queensland, Australia (the largest Pacific island), fully protects humphead wrasses and also groupers greater than 100 cm because of their low natural abundances and potential threat from overexploitation. Queensland is also considering additional protection of nearshore sharks. But as far as I know, American Samoa is the first to work towards complete protection of all their ten largest species of reef fishes.

Chuck Birkeland

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