Today the Marianas Variety published my letter to the editor regarding the Napoleon wrasse catch by Felix Sasamoto. It was not carried in the Tribune but rather this letter from John Gourley was and so was this one from Ben Carroll of American Samoa. You can also read my initial thoughts on this blog here.
Mr. Carroll's letter is short and sweet and basically points out the CNMI is not the only area in this part of the world that has banned SCUBA assisted spear fishing as suggested by Mr. Trianni in a previous article on this subject. Apparently America Samoa has also implemented this restriction.
The letter from Mr. Gourley is a little longer and interesting in a few respects.
First, I am glad he clarified comments made by Captain Carl in a previous article in which Carl said the Napoleon wrasse was protected over in Guam. According to John it is not and this is more in line with my understanding. I was surprised when it was suggested it was. John also quite correctly points out that since the wrasse is not specifically protected in Guam that diving tourists are not necessarily going to Guam over Saipan in order to see them. These were two points in an earlier article that also bothered me.
However, where I have objection with Mr. Gourley is with his statement in which he is referring to emails from persons within government agencies...
These individuals were irate with Mr. Sasamoto because he did not subscribe to their personal point of view, and attempted to make him feel guilty about his catch. In short, the e-mails stated the two wrasse should have been left (alive) for the diving community because tourism generates much more money over time than catching and selling fish. Their entire argument was based on the pursuit of the dollar and development of the (diving) tourism industry. I can only assume these people have very little respect for local cultural fishing practices.
First, in all the meetings I have attended and the discussions I've had with those responsible for managing our recourses I have never heard anyone disrespect the native cultural fishing practices. This is quite an assumption he makes and one that attempts to do exactly what he has said the "enviro nazies" have done and that is "alienate the very group of people whom you need support"
By suggesting that people are against the way Felix caught the fish he is just trying to stir up the pot, one he himself has had great influence in bring to a boil. No one has ever suggested that Felix did anything illegal or that what he did was not a remarkable feat. What people are suggesting is that with the bigger picture in mind - that is, future prosperity for both divers and fisherman, that perhaps these two fish found at a very popular dive site should have been left alone. If, as he and others (including Felix) have suggested, the Napoleon exists in large numbers than why kill these two. They could have brought in millions of dollars in revenue. Revenue that can help build a better education system, pay for CUC fuel or even a pharmacist at CHC. All things that everyone, including the fisherman, will benefit from.
I do not know this to be fact but I'll suggest that if Felix was aware of the Napoleon's life cycle, it's ability to loose fear of divers and it's territorial nature as well as the economic boost that could be gained by making it an attraction over the next 50 years that he would not have taken that particular fish at that particular site.
The fact of the matter is that left alone to practice only ancient fishing techniques without the need to make a living by selling the fish the fisherman and the rest of us would see islands teaming with fish resources. Population pressures, not so traditional fishing practices and illegal fishing as well as the need to sell the fish at ridiculously low prices have all come together to make for a situation in which our resources are depleted.
Again no where is anyone suggesting that traditional fishing practices should be discouraged but rather a balance must be found that makes sense for everyone.
Mr. Gourley also says he thought divers came here for the Eagle Rays and not the wrasse. As much as that was once true, currently at least, there are very few rays for divers to enjoy. This could be a function of some environmental factor beyond our control or it could also be because someone out there thought there were plenty of eagle rays so it wouldn't really matter if they took a few and now they can't recover.