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Marine preserves double risk of drowning

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released the findings of a study that show a direct correlation between the enforcement of marine preserves and the risk of drowning for indigenous fishermen.

The risk of drowning more than doubled for Chamorro fishermen after marine preserve areas were enforced on the island a decade ago. That was the major finding of a study released by the centers for disease control and prevention, national institute for occupational safety and health.

"It's something we've always known in the fishing community. Our fishing community has dwindled," said Manny Duenas, president of the Guam Fishermen's Co-op. "We used to be 1,000 fishermen, now we're less than 200 fishermen."  CDC officials spent about three weeks on Guam last year conducting the study that found that indigenous fishermen used to fish on the western and southern coasts of Guam, but when the preserves were established, they became more reliant on fishing on the East Coast - increasing their exposure to more hazardous conditions resulting in a higher risk of drowning.

Duenas stresses that fishermen aren't against the preserves, but would like the regulations to be amended, telling KUAM News, "If you see the impact to this small population doubling, then there's really a concern that someone should address in the government and visit the community and see what's really going on and causing our demise. The value of these preserves - is it worth the bodies?"

The stringent regulations in traditional fishing areas at the Tumon Bay, Piti Bomb Holes, Sasa Bay, Achang Reef Flat and Pati Point preserves have resulted in fishermen heading to the eastern side of the island. "We respect the preserves and we believe in what it's supposed to do," Duenas noted. "But at the same time we also have to put a balance between human life and what the environment will provide for us as it has for thousands of years.

Local fishermen are drafting new rules to change the island's five marine preserves into culturally managed areas that they say would promote traditional fishing practices.

"That way, our older adults, before they leave they can teach us the safety factors. If you look all the drownings and deaths, they're mostly young people and I hate to see the next generation, any of my children suffer a consequence because of our inability to teach them properly. And I think those skills, whether you're teaching in education or you're teaching in real life. Those skills are detrimental to survival of the people and its culture," he shared.

Other fishermen we spoke with today suggested the government issue fishing permits or allow fishing in selected preserves at certain times around the year. The Department of Agriculture did not return KUAM's calls for comment on the CDC study.

Meanwhile, the main sponsor of the bill that created the marine preserves, former senator Joanne Brown, says she has not seen the study but questions its validity and intent.  She says the preserves were established to protect dwindling marine resources.

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