Regarding NOAA’s May 2023 Scoping Meeting in Hawaiʻi

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By Esther Kiaʻāina

I share the concerns expressed by the governors of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands about the expansion of fishery closures through the designation of the Pacific Remote Islands area as a national marine sanctuary.

Under the Obama Administration, this designation was considered, and a decision was made not to expand the current monument boundaries to 200 nautical miles around Howland and Baker Islands, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. At the Department of the Interior (DOI) we discussed the department’s role of stewardship of natural resources with its role of balancing the interests of the U.S. Pacific territories, which it also has jurisdiction over.

I recommend that as NOAA moves forward with its scoping process for this proposed designation, that it work closely with the White House and the DOI in its federal deliberations and with the governors of the U.S. Pacific territories and the presidents of the Freely Associated States of Micronesia, particularly as it pertains to Wake Atoll.

Too often, in my 20+ years of working in the U.S. Congress and DOI, I felt that federal agencies worked in their own silos with their own missions when it comes to the development of federal laws and regulations as it pertains to the U.S. possessions and U.S. territories, without sufficient regard to the overall relationship between the United States and the affected territories. In some instances, one could argue that some have shown more concern over the protection of natural and ocean resources than the actual welfare and quality of life for the Indigenous peoples who live in these areas.

Whether or not the U.S. government moves forward with this designation, I believe that simultaneous priority be given to helping the Pacific territories with economic development, including in the areas of fisheries. A specific example of support that could be provided is the establishment of a robust aquaculture program specifically targeted for the territories with its own pot of funding, which can help with economic diversification and food security.


Esther Kiaʻāina is currently the vice chair of the Honolulu City Council and the former assistant secretary for insular areas for the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Barack Obama. She was born in Guam and spent almost her entire career, including 24 years in Washington D.C., advocating for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.