National Marine Monument

Teteto Reef, by Wendy L. Doromal ©1992
Acrylic on canvas

April 27, 2008

Jane Mack has written a letter to the editor worth reading. It clearly addresses environmental, political, and economic issues concerning a proposed PEW Charitable Trust Fund national marine monument which would be great for the CNMI on many levels. She wrote:
"I support the Pew Charitable Trust Fund proposal to create a national marine monument around the CNMI's three northernmost islands, Maug, Asuncion, and Uracas. This project is designed to protect marine habitat and the life within it. Conservation is an important goal for all of us because we need our oceans to be healthy for the wellbeing of our planet. 
The national marine monument would create a zone of protected marine habitat-a “no-take” zone, a sanctuary, a refuge for marine life."
I hope the idea of a marine monument is not dead as has been suggested by Ken Kramer in his letter to the editor, and Jane Mack in a post on her Saipan Writer site.

More information about the value of the project can be found in letters written by Ignacio V. Cabrera, and in a previous letter by Ken Kramer. Tamara Hunter also wrote a letter in support of this project, suggesting that residents get in touch with Angelo Villagomez "to get the information you need to make an informed decision for yourself." If you don't know Angelo, you can reach him through his web-site, The Saipan Blog.

A March 23, 2008 Saipan Tribune article quotes Angelo:
“Ultimately, this thing should be supported by the people of the CNMI. We've presented this to leadership-the Legislature, the Senate, and the governor. And we will continue to do presentations to this,” said Beautify CNMI!'s Angelo Villagomez.

The group is pushing for the designation of the northernmost islands of Farallon de Pajaron (Uracas), Maug, and Asuncion and the waters surrounding these islands as a national monument, similar to last year's designation by President Bush of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The project is seen as a means to preserve the area as a protected marine habitat. All three islands are uninhabited and volcanic, but the waters surrounding them teem with life and as yet to be discovered new species of marine creatures...
...Villagomez said presentations on the marine monument proposal will be shown to whoever is interested in learning more about it.
“They can call me and we'll schedule something for those who want to see it,” Villagomez said."
Imagine how many tourists such an amazing national marine monument would draw; how much positive publicity it would garner; and what an economic boost it would be to the CNMI! As beautiful as the CNMI is on the surface, underwater it is absolutely heavenly. This proposal is worthy of further consideration, and a more extensive exploration before making a rash decision to turn it down.

Rejected by CNMI Leaders

Governor Fitial came out against the project "at this time" as he was quoted in this Saipan Tribune article:
"Also, a letter from Gov. Benigno R. Fitial opposed the marine monument designation “at this time.”

Fitial stated in his letter to Pew project director Jay Nelson that, although he appreciates Pew's interest in the CNMI, “the government must fully consider all options and decide carefully, prudently, and strategically.”
The CNMI Legislature adopted a resolution in opposition to the marine monument. It was a unanimous vote in the Senate, and a 17-3 vote in the House with only Rep. Tina Sablan, Rep. Edward Salas, and Rep. Heinz Hofschneider voting against the resolution.

The Saipan Tribune article stated:
"In the resolution, the lawmakers said there has been little dialogue between the U.S. and CNMI governments on the proposal. They added that most of the CNMI citizens “have not and would not formally endorse” the proposal until more information is gathered and considered. 
The lawmakers also expressed concern that the designation would prevent fishing and mining activities within the 115,000 square-mile area that is being eyed for the Northern Islands Marine National Monument. Such restriction, they said, may conflict with the commonwealth's bid in establishing its own fishery and mining industries. 
The resolution goes on to state that the CNMI “fervently opposes the transfer of any form of marine resource management authority over CNMI waters” to any federal agency. 
“The establishment of the proposed monument seems likely to wrest control of access to these islands from the people of the CNMI, and transfer that control to those with little familiarity with the resources in question, the history of the islands, and the culture and traditions of their people,” states the resolution."

Tan - WESPAC Influence?

What influenced the leaders of the CNMI to reject this proposal? Their arguments seem weak as outlined in some of the letters to the editor that are cited above. Rep. Tina Sablan unsuccessfully attempted to clear up misconceptions with fellow legislators according to the Tribune article:

"During debate on the floor, Sablan tried to set straight what she described as misconceptions about the proposed marine sanctuary. She argued that there is no rush to make the designation, and that the government and the community can negotiate the terms of the declaration if they so choose. 
She also offered to amend the resolution to remove provisions that reject the proposal outright, and to focus on the call against any unilateral decision by Washington on the issue.
Her amendments were rejected."

Perhaps the leaders were influenced by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC or WPRFMC), currently under investigation by the federal government? Or maybe was it political pressure from CNMI's own Willie Tan of Luen Thai Fishing Venture, LTD?

According to this page on the Luen Thai web-site, Luen Thai Fishing Ventures, Ltd. has "joined the By-Catch Consortium in Hawaii as one of the Steering Committee members of the WPRFMC." It reads:

"In February 2007, LTFV joined the Asia and Pacific By-catch Consortium in Hawaii as one of the Steering Committee members of the WPRFMC. The Consortium aims to resolve issues involving long-line by-catch of sea turtle, sea birds, and small sharks. LTFV strongly advocates measures to protect the species not targeted by fisheries."

Here are "quick facts" from the Luen Thai website:

-A wholly owned subsidiary of Luen Thai International Group, a Hong Kong based conglomerate

- Provides fresh tuna products and end-to-end services from fishing operations and base operations, to processing and distribution of fresh products on time to US and Japan markets through its another competitive advantage in logistics

- Owns and operates more than 70 long-line vessels

- Directly affiliated with Asia Pacific Airlines, a regional air freight carrier with 3 B 727 aircraft, fully servicing LTFV’s key fishing bases and processing plants

- Our 4 strategically-located fishing bases serve more than 150 long line vessels from China, Taiwan and other countries

The site provides a map of their operations, and a second map (above) is featured in their catalog. It elaborates on the company's plans to expand their fishing to non-tuna commercial fishing:
"LTFV now has marketing offices in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Japan, Qingdao, Xiamen, Fuzhou and Shanghai in China, and processing and fishing bases in Pohnpei, Majuro, Palau and the Philippines. LTFV's trading of seafood products now encompasses most countries in Asia. LTFV is the number 1 supplier of Tuna in Japan, averaging 7,000 Tons per year, which is around 15% of the whole Japan market. 
Having established its name in the Pacific tuna fishing industry, LTFV is now gathering momentum to develop its non-tuna commercial fishing in the Central Western Pacific region."
Dengre from the Daily Kos has posted some diaries exploring the Luen Thai Ventures and the Tan family:
Sweatshops, shark fins, labor abuse, over fishing and US politics
Meet the Tan Family: corrupt patrons of the GOP and HRC

In one post Dengre quotes a Pacific Magazine article:

Rota Reef by Wendy L. Doromal ©1990
Acrylic on canvas
"Willie Tan, the consummate entrepreneur, isn’t waiting for times to get better on Saipan. He’s been expanding his regional fishing efforts, and now has major fleets in the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, and has established a fisheries foothold in the Hawaii market. He has been making a concerted effort to expand his presence in the Marshalls in other areas. He’s now providing air freight service to American Samoa, which has opened the door to expanded services into the South Pacific.

Still, for the short-term at least, the company’s fortunes will be adversely affected by the Northern Marianas economy’s continuing free fall. Given that, while Saipan remains Tan Holdings’ emotional heart, it is now possible to envision a future when the island is but a side note to its bigger plays elsewhere in the Pacific and Asia. 
And one thing about Willie Tan, as his competitors have discovered over the years: don’t bet against him."


Anonymous said...

Their ships are fishing due west of Rota now.

Anonymous said...

How close? In view?

Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy,

This is a link to the ongoing investigation of wespac, which does not want the marine monument in the Northern Mariana Islands. They want complete control over the oceans. They are getting money by fining foreign fishing vessels that stray into U. S. territory.

Anonymous said...

This site: has a document from wespac, which purports to implement a new strategy based on an ecosystems approach, but is really "Business as Usual," when you read page i, in which it says no new regulations. Note that the proposed new marine monument is included as part of the area in their FEP.

Wendy said...

Thanks, I am checking this out!