President Barack Obama is to travel to Hawaii this week to mark the new designation of the expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marina National Monument which he signed despite strong opposition from the Hawaii fishing industry.
Obama’s signing of the proclamation Friday quadruples in size the Hawaii monument originally created by President George W. Bush in 2006.
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will contain some 582,578 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas.
President Obama who was born in Hawaii is expected to cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change.
In expanding the monument, Obama cited its “diverse ecological communities” as well as “great cultural significance to the Native Hawaiian community and a connection to early Polynesian culture worthy of protection and understanding.”
The monument designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing monument. Recreational fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices.
The Western Pacific fishery Management Council of which American Samoa is a member voiced disappointment with Obama’s decision, saying it “serves a political legacy” rather than a conservation benefit.
Council member from American Samoa Taulapapa Willie Sword told KHJ News in a recent interview the territory should be concerned with the Hawaii monument expansion because “we could be next.”
There was also opposition from the fishing industry in Hawaii.
Sean Martin, the president of the Hawaii Longline Association, said his organization was disappointed Obama closed an area nearly the size of Alaska without a public process.
“This action will forever prohibit American fishermen from accessing those American waters. Quite a legacy indeed,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.
The Pew Charitable Trusts helped lead the push to expand the monument. It says research shows that very large, fully protected marine reserves are necessary to rebuild fish populations and diversity of species.
The White House said the expansion is a response to a proposal from Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and prominent Native Hawaiian leaders.
The federal government will also give Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs a greater role in managing the monument, an arrangement requested by Schatz and Governor David Ige.
Ige signed off on the expansion last Wednesday, telling Obama in a letter that there had been tremendous debate on the issue locally.
In the end, he decided the “proposal strikes the right balance at this time for the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, and it can be a model for sustainability in the other oceans of planet Earth.”
But American Samoa’s US Congresswoman Aumua Amata, said the monument expansion would place an already economically challenged territory at greater risk.
Amata said, “Our local fishing industry, which comprises more than 80 percent of the local economy, depends heavily on access to these waters.”