Fisheries in Guam’s Exclusive Economic Zone

By Peter Raptis

Many nations rely on the vast waters surrounding their land for their livelihood. They have a vested interest in preserving these waters in terms of both economic and environmental needs. As prescribed by the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, nations are allowed to establish a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone in which the relevant state has special rights over the exploration and use of natural marine resources. This includes the right to govern fish stock, as well manage issues related to overfishing.

Caption: Map of Guam’s exclusive economic zone (Courtesy NOAA)

In the case of Guam, fisheries management is handled in the same manner in which it is handled for all U.S. states, through the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, and the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (based in Honolulu, Hawaii). Recently, however, the Guamanians have been working on a plan that will enable the U.S. Federal Government to transfer oversight of Guam’s natural resources within the exclusive economic zone to the Government of Guam itself. To date, the approach to resource management in Guam has followed a “top down” approach, giving local communities a minor role in how the nation’s resources are used and protected. Allowing Guam oversight of its own territorial waters gives this island nation the opportunity to more directly control and protect its natural marine resources, and like nations around the world, to preserve these waters for long-term economic and environmental needs.

The ability to enact regulations locally holds great promise in creating more effective marine protection. Oversight via policy makers on the U.S. mainland fails to acknowledge the local knowledge and understanding of the island’s territorial waters and the environmental threats posed to it. One size does not fit all. The local people, including the fishermen, are the experts of the environmental conditions facing the island and what can be done politically, commercially, and culturally to best rectify the situation. As the Pelagic Fisheries Research Program of the Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research points out, “It is becoming widely accepted that sound management of fisheries requires closer attention to resource users.” Many island residents feel they should have some say in what happens to their natural resources. And the fact is that “locals” are more likely to buy-in to regulations that they have a hand in creating and implementing. The people of Guam are proud of their island and want the independence to have some input in the same way that states do on the U.S. mainland.

About the author: Peter Raptis is currently a junior at the University of Southern California pursing a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. He is interested in environmental policy and plans to attend law school after graduating from USC.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

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