Saipan – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan called today for Congress and Federal agencies to dedicate more attention and resources to curtailing illegal activity in U.S. Pacific waters. “Our inability to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing is having a dramatic effect on the health of Pacific marine ecosystems and the island economies that depend on them,” said Sablan, the top Democrat on the House Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs Subcommittee. “We don’t even have a way to know who is in our exclusive economic zones, much less a way to do anything about it.”
Congressman Sablan’s comments came in the wake of a report by the Marine Conservation Institute that highlights the inability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adequately enforce federal law within the boundaries of the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, Rose Atoll, and Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monuments.
“These monuments are critical elements of our natural and cultural heritage, not to mention major drivers of our economy,” Sablan said. “We cannot afford to allow illegal, unregulated, and unreported activities to continue in these protected areas.”
So-called I.U.U. fishing is big business, bringing in an estimated $10 billion annually worldwide, and undermining domestic fishermen who play by the rules.
This is not the first time Sablan has shined a light on the enforcement problem. At a Subcommittee hearing in July he pointed out that part of the problem is that NOAA and the Coast Guard have been short-changed on the physical and financial resources needed to patrol Pacific waters.
The combined area of exclusive economic zone waters of the U.S. Pacific islands, including the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Hawaii exceeds 1.5 million square miles, or roughly half the size of the lower 48 states.
One solution, Sablan suggested, would be to refit vessels seized by the United States for use as by federal law enforcement.
But he pointed out that the current federal commitment to law enforcement simply does not match the size of the region or the complexity of the issues facing it.
“We in Congress need to step up with additional funding,” Sablan said. “And the responsible agencies need to do more to work collaboratively to maximize the effectiveness of the resources that Congress provides.”
The Marine Conservation Institute reports that agencies do not have coordinated plans for preventing and responding to oil spills, ship groundings, and trespassing that can damage sensitive coral reefs and other valuable resources.
Sablan is also working to provide the agencies with better legal weapons to combat I.U.U. fishing. The Congressman is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 4100, the Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing Enforcement Act, which has been discharged from his Subcommittee.
“We will certainly continue to push the House Natural Resources Committee to report this bill and the House leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote,” Sablan said.
Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate. That bill, S. 52, also awaits legislative action, when Congress goes back to work in November.