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

Christopher Hawkins chwkins at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 29 22:00:33 EDT 2007

Dear Listers:
  In his recent email, Chuck Birkeland mentioned Dr. Doug Fenner's diligence, which recently culminated in Governor Tulafono's statement of intent to begin a process to protect rare, large fish species in American Samoan waters.
  Doug, among others, is to be commended.  Over the past several years, he has methodically assisted in making the case to political leaders for the need for conservation of these species -- not always an easy road.
  One of the more disappointing sights I have witnessed was a meter and a half long bumphead hanging from a tree during my morning commute to Pago Pago, waiting for a buyer.  Probably one of the last big ones.
  Congratulations Doug and company!
  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

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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