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Big challenges face Guam fishermen

by Heather Hauswirth

Guam - The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council is on island and will be holding a fisherman forum for the public today and Friday at the Hilton from 6-9pm. However, earlier today members discussed some of the significant challenges facing the fishing community.

"In a cultural sense for all of us islanders, we go out fishing, we come back,we share with families, we give to our friends," said executive director of the Council Kitty Simonds.  Establishing a cultural definition for 'customary exchange' was a critical move for the 147th Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council. Simonds, who is based in Hawaii but on Guam for meetings with the Council today and tomorrow, says fishing regulations surrounding the Marianas Trench Marine Monument are of utmost importance to the fishing community on island, but that this is just one issue making a splash.

"The monument excludes commercial fishing, but allows for recreational fishing, subsistence and sustenance fishing so our job here is to define those terms - what does that mean? Who does that include? What can they fish with?" she asked.

For director of the Guam Department of Agriculture, Joe Torres, answering those questions is something he wants to be able to do on behalf of the island.  But he says Guam does not currently have a seat at the table that would allow the territory to help shape the management measures for the Marine National Monument. Torres explains that this is not the case for the CNMI, which plays a more active role merely due to the fact that it is a commonwealth.

"At this point in time you need permit to go into monument area and could be declined, being part of management and crafting rules, we have a say so and we have a voice and now if ever turned down entering the permit you have to ride on shoulders of the CNMI," he said.

Frustrated that the CNMI has this exclusivity over one of the most productive fishing grounds, Torres says he is working closely with Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo's office as well as Congressman Gregorio Sablan of the CNMI to lobby on behalf of Guam to become a member of the management organization.  "Message to fisherman: don't ever stop asking questions, put the pressure on government officials, put the pressure on Congresswoman Bordallo, so we can get on the table and be a co-manager in the resources," he said.

Regulating offshore aquaculture as well as the impact that the military buildup will have on marine life in CNMI and Guam will also be on the agenda over the next two days.

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