[Coral-List] American Samoa now protects all sharks plus 3 large coral reef fish species

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Wed Nov 14 22:15:12 EST 2012

**American Samoa protects all sharks, plus three species of large coral
reef fish in its waters*

The Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources has promulgated new
regulations protecting these rare marine species which took effect on
November 11, 2012. American Samoa has acted to protect all sharks plus
three species of large coral reef fish in all the waters of the territory
of American Samoa.  It is now illegal to catch or even possess:

1.                        Humphead Wrasse;

2.                        Bumphead Parrotfish;

3.                        Giant Grouper; or

4.                        any species of shark anywhere in the territory or
territorial waters.

Territorial waters extend 3 nautical miles from the shoreline.  All sizes
and ages and any parts are fully protected, at all times, everywhere in the
territory.  These regulations are the most powerful protection for sharks
in the USA, and provide the only protection for the other three reef fish
within the USA, except for where all fish are protected.

Because possession of all parts of these species is illegal, shark fins are
illegal in the territory, including transshipping sharks or fins.  Because
none of these fish can be brought into the territory, the protection of
this regulation may extend to nearby waters where fishers would bring their
catch into the territory.  These fish were protected first with an
Executive Order of the Governor, and then additionally by these newly
adopted fishing regulations by the Dept. Marine & Wildlife Resources.

A recent scientific paper published by NOAA’s CRED division in Hawaii
estimated that the territory has just 4-8% of the sharks it would have if
there were no people (Nadon et al. 2012).  Reef sharks are slow growing,
late maturing, and produce very few pups each year, and thus can not
sustain anything but the lightest fishing pressure.  The primary reason for
the low number of sharks is fishing, though other effects of human
activities, like sediment, nutrient and chemical runoff may contribute by
damaging fish habitat, and the number of fish is also affected by the
amount of juvenile habitat.  Our Marine Protected Areas are too small to
protect sharks, they swim over large areas and will swim outside the MPAs
and can be caught.

There used to be a few schools of bumphead parrotfish here, but now only
about one fish per year is sighted, and they appear to be close to local
extinction.  Spear fishing using lights at night is especially effective at
taking these parrotfish, because they sleep together on the bottom in a
school in the same place every night.  Bumpheads have been driven to local
extinction on some islands in Fiji, something we want to avoid here.  Humphead
wrasse are less common here than many places where there are no people.  Giant
groupers and some kinds of sharks appear to be naturally rare here and
elsewhere.  If the last ones are caught, they could become locally extinct,
and we want to avoid that by protecting them.

All these fish are large, reaching 4 feet or more in length and 100-600
pounds, depending on the species.  Fishing usually removes the largest fish
first.  There is direct evidence from a NOAA CRED study that islands in the
US Pacific, including American Samoa, which have people have fewer big fish
than islands without people, while populated islands have just as many
small fish as unpopulated islands (Williams et al. 2011).

American Samoa is now a world leader in protecting its large coral reef
fish species. The American Samoa Government has adopted these new
regulations to help fish populations recover to help create a balanced
ecosystem which includes sustainable fishing yields and supports
traditional cultural practices which are important locally.  The largest
coral reef fish are overfished on most coral reefs around the world where
people are near, making this a widespread problem.  Overfishing is one of
the largest effects people have on reefs and can leave reefs vulnerable to
masses of algae growing over the coral.  Large fish are very attractive for
scuba divers, and scuba diving tourism is a major income earner for small
tropical island countries.  In a few places like Palau, shark diving
tourism is a major part of the economy.  Dive tourism is non-consumptive,
and where it is feasible, can provide much greater local economic benefits
than fishing.

Nadon, M.C., Baum, J.K., Williams, I.D., McPherson, J.M., Zglicynski, B.J.,
Richards, B.L., Schroeder, R.E., Brainard, R.E. Brainard, R.E.  2012.
missing population baselines for Pacific Reef Sharks.  Conservation Biology
26: 493-503.

Williams, I., Richards, B.M., Sandin, S.A., Baum, J.K., Schroeder, R.E.,
Nadon, M.O., Zgliczynski, B., Craig, P., McIlwain, J.L., Brainard, R.E.
2011.  Differences in reef fish assemblages between populated and remote
reefs spanning multiple archipelagos across the Central and West
Pacific.  Journal
of Marine Biology 2011: 1-14.

Douglas Fenner
Dept. Marine & Wildlife Resources, American Samoan Government
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

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