Amata and Expert Witnesses Highlight Fishing Fleet Role in Countering PRC in Pacific Islands
US Coast Guard Permanent Presence Also Emphasized
News Release from Office of Rep Aumua Amata (R-AS)
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata and expert witnesses together strongly emphasized the importance of the U.S. Pacific fishing fleet and American-produced tuna in a Tuesday hearing on countering the PRC in the Pacific Islands, as well as highlighting how stationing Coast Guard vessels at Pago Pago Harbor would be an important signal of U.S. commitment in the Pacific.
Video of the hearing is available in its entirety HERE. American Samoa’s strategic role was highlighted in expert testimony provided by Dr. Peter Watson, President and CEO, The Dwight Group; Cleo Paskal, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Alexander Gray, Managing Partner, American Global Strategies; Derek Grossman, Senior Defense Analyst, The RAND Corporation; and Emil Friberg, former Assistant Director and Senior Economist, International Affairs and Trade, Government Accounting Office. Congresswoman Amata’s statement and question begins at the 51:25 mark, leading into Dr. Watson’s response ending at 56:28.
Dr. Watson emphasized, and Amata agreed, that that any further closure of fishing in the Marine Monuments areas would be very harmful to the American Samoa tuna industry. Mr. Grossman of the RAND Corporation emphasized the need to continue subsidizing of the tuna industry in American Samoa as a national security imperative.
“Protecting our national interests in American Samoa and the Pacific region has been among my main reasons for being in Congress, and this moment has been a long time coming,” said Congresswoman Amata. “I especially want to echo Ms. Paskal’s comments on moving away from ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ to ‘Maritime Domain Enforcement’ – which is why I have long been an advocate for additional Coast Guard assets to be present in the South Pacific.”
“One example of how we change and manage U.S. engagement in the Pacific relates to the strategic, economic, and commercial issue of protecting American fisheries industry and rights in the region, particularly our tuna industry,” Amata continued. “I couldn’t agree more with the testimony of Dr. Peter Watson that the economy, future, and fate of American Samoa and the U.S. purse seine fleet are inextricably linked to one another.”
Amata noted that Dr. Watson has a distinguished career in the Asia-Pacific region, but an especially long history with the Pacific Islands. He was the White House’s lead staff member in organizing the very first Pacific Islands summit with President George H.W. Bush’s team, which Amata attended in 1990. He also arranged for the five heads of government to have visits with the President. She asked the witness about how current or future proposals to further limit commercial fishing activities in outlying areas within the U.S. EEZ might negatively impact the Pacific territories – particularly American Samoa
In his response to Amata’s question, Dr. Watson outlined the historic use of 1,828 combined fishing days on the high seas and the EEZ, much of which is closed to fishing. “NOAA has gotten weak-kneed, and is proposing to split the single combined limit into two separate limits. I’m sure all can see the irony in the government saying, ‘we’re going to take your 558 days and no longer allow that to be fished on the high seas, and oh by the way, we’re closing the remaining waters of the EEZ. Sorry.’ This is unacceptable,” he said, calling the Pacific fleet a “strategic asset” and an “important driver of income within American Samoa.”
Dr. Watson’s opening statement, which discusses American Samoa and fishing at length, begins at the 9:08 video timestamp through the 14:55 mark.
Ms. Paskal’s statement on Pacific security, China’s strategic ambitions, and the vital relationship with the Freely Associated States begins at 30:20 and ends at 36:00.
Mr. Gray also made a key reference to American Samoa and the Coast Guard in testimony at 1:24:45, stating, “Congresswoman Radewagen talked about our Coast Guard being stationed in American Samoa – that is an easy way to project U.S. power farther into the Pacific, combat Chinese illegal fisheries activity, and to penetrate farther in a subregion where China’s been operating almost with impunity…and the United States has been very late to the game.”
The hearing of the Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs was titled, Preserving U.S. Interests in the Indo-Pacific: Examining How U.S. Engagement Counters Chinese Influence in the Region.
The hearing explored vital security and economic topics regarding the Indo-Pacific region, particularly amid rising competition with the People’s Republic of China and Beijing efforts to reshape Pacific alignments. The testimony put a focus on the U.S. Pacific territories and the Freely Associated States (FAS) – the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The hearing was an opportunity for committee members to learn more about recent attempts at Chinese influence in the region and further frame the future of the U.S. relationships in the Indo-Pacific. The witnesses are providing further responses for the congressional record.