Fisherman’s Co-Op Opposes Coral Reef Protection Act

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Guam – Guam Fisherman’s Co-Op President Manny Duenas has issued a detailed release in opposition to Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz’s Coral Reef Protection Act.

Senator Cruz’s Bill No. 120 is slated for a public hearing Tuesday afternoon at 4 before Senator Rory Respicio’s Committee on Natural Resources.

Read Bill 120

In an e-mail appeal to supporters Duuenas writes that the Legislation “would adversely affect not only our fishing community but all boat operators and marine users.”

Among the Fisherman’s Co-Op concerns cited by Dueanas are:

* There are existing Local Laws which already address corals.  The removal or the most commonly used “Taking” of Coral is in place however enforcement is insufficient.

* This measure effectively kills any Bottomfishing or Spearfishing by the fishermen since it protects all corals alive or dead.  Free-divers anchor their boats as it is a common strategy used, mostly for safety concerns.  All anchoring is done on hard bottom areas and not on soft coral areas in order for anchors to work effectively.  Most corals outside the reef are hard corals and any damage minimal if any.  Technically all anchoring will be prohibited.

* This Legislation is an enforcement nightmare. DAR personnel are currently paid by Sportsfish Funds which does not allow for enforcement so conservation Officers must be tasked to enforce this legislation.  They lack training or expertise in addressing coral damages, likewise with anyone from DAR.

* A General fund appropriation is needed in order to hire personnel to perform this task to include over-time. Again, further use of government resources since GEPA has jurisdiction.

* This Legislation is discriminatory since enforcement will be imposed only on the legal activities of local residents.

* The environmental damage caused by the red dirt running down the hillside above Double Reef for the last two years was ignored by the same agency.

*  Marine Lab or like entities will be the beneficiary of this legislation since DAR lacks the capacity or competency to address any damages to our reefs, the Bill seems to also recognizes this shortcoming.

* Guam is not like Florida or other areas of Micronesia where there are huge inner lagoons and reefs where damages are eminent.  Any damages by our small boating community are purely accidental and the penalties will be insurmountable when compared to the cost of damages to property.

* This Legislation may increase the cost of owning a vessel and effectively destroy an already fragile boating community.

* This action is discriminatory since it targets one user group.  Selective enforcement again will be the norm.

* This Bill is an exercise in futility.  DAR has continuously demonstrated its inability to address any environmental damages or perform current duties.
  

Issues with Coral Reef Bill: 

Regarding vessels, exemptions should be applied for the following: 

  1. Damages caused by vessels.
    1. Engaged in Fishing Activities.
    2. Engaged in Tourism Activities.
    3. Engaged in Recreational Activities.
    4. Engaged in Research Activities.
    5. Emergency Response Activities.
    6. Acts of Nature.

 

  1. Anchoring devices used by Activities identified in item #1.

 

  1. Fueling provision should not apply to vessels in areas where there are no fueling facilities.  It is a concern to all that any fuel spill no matter how minute is a grave concern when it occurs in the water.  However the same concern should also be applied to voluminous amounts spilled on Land affecting the Terrestrial Resources which eventually impacts the ocean.

 

  1. Should not include waters deeper than 60 ft where coral coverage is sparse.

 

  1. The requirement that it must be removed within 72 hours may be difficult due to the following:
    1. Poor sea conditions. 
    2. Safety is always a factor.
    3. Proper equipment for removal.  Recognize that there are no vessel recovery entities in place.
    4. Accessibility to vessel, recognizing that despite the close proximity of the fringing reefs nearly 95% of the areas are beyond the reach conventional equipment. 
    5. The removal process may prove cause greater damage than good.

 
 

Application of Law: 

  1. Will apply to waters within the jurisdiction of the Government of Guam and does not apply to federal waters. 

 

  1. There are existing Federal and Local Regulations for any fuel spill adding another layer is ludicrous.  The US Coast Guard and Guam EPA currently have jurisdiction.

 

  1. Authority and duties of the first responder should include notifying all agencies and not the vessel owner/operator involved in a mishap.

 

  1. This Bill is discriminatory since only recognizes only users from the smallest sector.  It does not consider that Global Warming and Land Use Impacts have already been adversely affecting the Corals and pre-existing damages to such should not be a burden to the boating community for consequential damages incurred by a mishap.  Further it does not address the greater damage by those who utilize our reefs for a variety of reasons then by any boat damage in a given period.  The reefs incurred more damage in World War Two is greater than the anchors of all the boat operators/owner could ever drop in a reef system in a millennia.

 

  1. Adjudication of any incident denies the boater of due process.  Will there be neutral determination of the extent of the damages caused by a vessel by the same beneficiaries of the compensation? 

 

  1. Over the years the only major damages or impacts were from foreign incursions were never mitigated.  Only local boats will pay the price of this legislation.     

 
 

Recognize existing requirements and provisions:

    Corals: 

  1. There is an anchoring prohibition for vessels 50 feet or over on the southern seamounts in Federal waters.

 

  1. US Coast Guard Regulations require anchors for safety.

 

  1. All water accidents have an existing protocol where life takes priority and the vessel second.  A vessel grounding on a reef may be a necessity.  An un-recovered vessel may cause damages to the reef and the owner will be liable.

 

  1. There are existing Local Laws which already address corals.  The removal or the most commonly used “Taking” of Coral is in place however enforcement is insufficient.

 

  1. This measure effectively kills any Bottomfishing or Spearfishing by the fishermen since it protects all corals alive or dead.  Free-divers anchor their boats as it is a common strategy used, mostly for safety concerns.  All anchoring is done on hard bottom areas and not on soft coral areas in order for anchors to work effectively.  Most corals outside the reef are hard corals and any damage minimal if any.  Technically all anchoring will be prohibited. 

 

  1. It is ironic that the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the caretakers of the Nation’s Environment recognizes the need by the Hawaii fishermen to anchor their large vessels when Bottomfishing in the Protected Northwest Hawaiian Monument.  CEQ authorized this practice to continue while our local government effectively would ban this practice through this Legislation. 

 

  1. DAR personnel are currently paid by Sportsfish Funds which does not allow for enforcement (Pg. 19 of Guidebook) so conservation Officers must be tasked to enforce this legislation.  They lack training or expertise in addressing coral damages, likewise with anyone from DAR. 

 

  1. A General fund appropriation is needed in order to hire personnel to perform this task to include over-time. Again, further use of government resources since GEPA has jurisdiction.

 
 

   Fuel Spills: 

    1. The US Coast Guard and Guam EPA have jurisdiction.  A protocol is established and is now included to have DAWR personnel who are unfamiliar with impacts or addressing spills.  Consumption of alcohol or recklessly operating a vessel is under GPD Harbor so why so much language included which are not germane to the intent.      

General concerns and past experiences: 

  1. This Legislation is an enforcement nightmare…the only reef damages that were not immediately addressed have been by those illegally trying to get to Guam by Boat.  As a matter of fact, one vessel was on the reef for years and no one cared; not DAR or Marine Lab…seems caring is dependent on how much money is involved.  A vessel in particular was left on the reef and eventually got pushed onto the inner reef for years until it ended up in bits and pieces.

     

  1. This Legislation is discriminatory since enforcement will be imposed only on the legal activities of local residents.

 

  1. The environmental damage caused by the red dirt running down the hillside above Double Reef for the last two years was ignored by the same agency. 

 

  1. Marine Lab or like entities will be the beneficiary of this legislation since DAR lacks the capacity or competency to address any damages to our reefs, the Bill seems to also recognizes this shortcoming.  Please be cognizant that in the thirty years of coral research in the waters of Guam, anchoring was never identified as a concern; at least this concern was never raised with the boating community until now.

 

  1. Guam is not like Florida or other areas of Micronesia where there are huge inner lagoons and reefs where damages are eminent.  Any damages by our small boating community are purely accidental and the penalties will be insurmountable when compared to the cost of damages to property.

 

  1. This Legislation may increase the cost of owning a vessel and effectively destroy an already fragile boating community.  Insurance Premiums as well as Boat Loan Interest Rates are already beyond mainland cost and this may effectively prove costly resulting in a decline in participants in the activity.  Further, lessening the economic benefits to the community.  Recognize insurance for an incident protection would be insurmountable since the monetary compensation cannot be factored as written in this legislation. Current insurance premiums are based on a fixed value for losses recognize the Bill has an open ended cost clause.

 

  1. This action is discriminatory since it targets one user group.  Selective enforcement again will be the norm.

 

  1. There has been more damage caused by other activities than the all the four thousand years of fishing.  I recall the acres of antler coral in Tumon and the function they perform in protecting the juvenile fish.  Today, these corals are gone and the damages certainly not caused by any boat.  

 

  1. This Bill is an exercise in futility.  DAR has continuously demonstrated its inability to address any environmental damages or perform current duties. 

 

  1. There should be a clear penalty and not subject to an evaluation by a party benefiting from the imposition of any penalties.  It is unconscionable that the recovery cost for the coral is considerably higher than the recovery losses incurred by the vessel owner listed even with an exemption.

 

  1. It is interesting that we have existing GovGuam agencies with programs to address impacts to corals and to date no real proactive measures have been done to even protect the highly fragile near shore corals from land based impacts.  We recommend that the Guam EPA be the caretaker of the funds as they are responsible for the impacts to the environment.

 

  1. Recognize that there boats that hit corals nearly everyday; though not intentionally but the corals are growing in the passage areas of the Marinas.  Avoiding corals is like trying to avoid dog crap in its kennel in the dark…one will eventually hit the mark and in one case all one will be burdened with purchasing a new three hundred dollar propeller along with thousands of dollars in fines and penalties while the other requires soap and water.

 

  1. Over the years, Guam boats have suffered a quite a number of mishaps but due mostly to poor channel markings, poor visibility (heavy rain), poor navigational maps to include Global Positioning System inaccuracies and so forth.  It unconscionable that the possibility of a large financial burden out weigh the safety of human life. 

 

  1. When the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were created fishermen were immediately singled out and strict rules in place.  Further concerns were raised about other user groups and their impacts.  Well over ten years later no one else is regulated or regulations in place.

 

  1. The Chief of DAWR should not have the authority over these funds and the Director should be the ultimate authority since the directive identifies the Department of Agriculture.

 
 

Requirements prior to enforcement of this Law: 

  1. DAWR should deploy mooring (swim) buoys along the coast.  Mooring buoys are not being maintained, replaced or new ones added.

 

  1. All vessel access areas should be properly marked to ensure safe passage.  Markers are needed in the Agat and Hagatna Marinas.  The high incident areas such as Merizo Lagoon, Cabras, Glass Breakwater, Ritidian Point, Double Reef, Ylig, Pago Bay as well as other statistical areas.  An analysis of high incident areas should be done.

 

  1. All reef areas should be properly marked to establish a coral zone to ensure foot traffic does not add to the destruction of the Reef Line areas.  It is interesting that the daily foot traffic in high use areas is not an impact but an infrequent mishap demands so much attention and exaggerated penalties.

 

  1. There should be further analysis conducted as to other as important marine resources other corals in need of protection.  The disappearance of Turtle Grass in the Piti preserve is a prime example.

 

  1. An Outreach Program should be developed to inform the Marine User Groups of Essential Coral Habitat to reduce impacts to these Corals.  This program should have been done years ago especially among the largest and damaging user group of all; our Tourism Industry.

 

  1. Further the socio-economic impact to the Marine Community should be evaluated.  To include loss government revenue, employment, businesses and other support entities that contribute to this economy.

 

  1. Recognize that this is the second Legislation this year that would adversely affect the small scale fishing community.  It is unconscionable that in order to pursue the passage of this Legislation as with the first the fishing community is once again the beneficiaries of such special attention.  First, we do not fin Sharks and we certainly are not out to damage the environment, especially corals.

 

This law should apply to vessels 100 feet or greater and with anchoring devices a hundred pounds or more.  Further there are other equipment that are used that damage coral with a greater impact and admittedly the damages were done while conducting research. The irony of this Legislation is that for years Federal Aid has been made available to DAWR to mitigate such impacts to the Corals but the funds have not been utilized for such a program and often returned unused by the Agency.  This Agency like other GovGuam Agencies with similar duties continues to fail in this respect.  At the end of the day, the Programmatic Policy of the Administration to develop our local economy is being undermined and with the assistance by those at the lower levels of the Executive Branch.   

In closing, this exercise reminds me of story of a small property owner (on the main road) in Agat who has spent the last five years trying to build a small commercial building on a 500 square meter property.  He had to spend nearly twenty thousand dollars for an Archeological study so he could dig for sewer and water service.  Imagine attaining a Government service one has to not only pay for a hook-up and contractor cost but pay a greater amount for the study in Agat, where the Marines stormed the beaches and artillery and bombs destroyed the area.  If it is the desire of this Administration to improve our economy and the life style of our people, we must address thoroughly the impacts of each and every action to ensure the burden does not destroy the very fabric of the Administration’s intent.  Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me.  Until then we remain, 

Co-operatively yours,

Manny Duenas

President

GFCA