Sea Cucumber harvest will not proceed in Sapwuahfik despite efforts otherwise

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

January 31, 2019

Pohnpei, FSM—Pohnpei Assistant Attorney General Judah Johnny has cautioned Governor Peterson against proceeding with a six page Young Sun International work plan to harvest sea cucumbers in Sapwuahfik.  The company had submitted a work plan to commercially harvest sea cucumbers in the waters off the atoll municipality beginning sometime after January 3.

His January 15 letter was in response to a phone conversation with Governor Peterson concerning two documents; the commercialization work plan and a proposed settlement for partial lifting of the Temporary Restraining Order issued by the FSM Supreme Court banning any sea cucumber harvest pending final ruling by the Court.

He said in his letter to the Governor that there was evidence that Pohnpei’s Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture (OFA) and Young Sun International had worked together on the proposed work plan for commercialization of sea cucumbers in Sapwuahfik. 

The work plan first came to the attention of the Attorney General’s office when OFA Administrator Albert Augustine presented it to the AG’s office for consultation prior to a meeting between Augustine and the Mwoalen Wahu.  Judah’s letter said that he then cautioned Augustine not to sign the document.  He said that the plan did not meet the law which requires OFA to conduct a feasibility study of the sustainability and profitability of operation for the marketing of sea cucumbers from the lagoons of Pohnpei Island and the outer islands of the state.

Johnny’s letter said that Augustine is new to his position and may not have been fully knowledgeable of the issues of the case before the court in which the court had issued a restraining order barring harvest of sea cucumbers pending the outcome of the trial.  “But Young Sun is a party defendant in the case,” his letter said.  “Young Sun should know the conditions of the TRO, and understand that the Plan does not address the requirement of law and the order of the court.”

He wrote that the Office of the Attorney General had held several meetings with Young Sun and their attorney.  During those meetings the AG’s office made it clear that a feasibility study must be conducted and a plan presented that provides for sustainability balanced with profitability.  “The (Sapwuahfik) work plan is no better than the Plan that we present to the court in our defense, which the court found failed to accomplish the legislative intent of the law,” Johnny’s letter said.

The letter also addressed a proposed Settlement for Partial Lifting of the TRO.  The document was drafted for signature by Isipau as Chairman of Mwoal En Wahu, the Iso Nahnken of Nett, and Governor Peterson.

After returning from a trip to China, the principal Plaintiff in the civil action against Young Sun International and Pohnpei State appeared to have changed his mind regarding the viability of sea cucumber harvests in Pohnpei.  The Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) was one of the plaintiffs.  Johnny pointed out that the proposed court filing for the partial lifting of the TRO does not include participation of CSP, nor of Young Sun International. The document proposes to be signed only by parties without counsel.  “There is no indication that there has been consultation with Ramp and Mida Law Offices for the plaintiffs, Attorney Joseph Phillip for Young Sun, and the Office of the Attorney General for Pohnpei State and OPA,” the letter said.  “Whoever drafted the settlement does not appear to know the facts of the case and the law and rules governing.  For this reason, I doubt very much that the Settlement as is, is capable of invoking jurisdiction of the court.  Further, even if the Settlement is capable of moving the court, the requirement of Section 7-401 cited here will still (need) to be met.”

“This effort appears to have created dissensions among leaders in Sapwuahfik Government.  The matter has risen to the attention of the Pohnpei Legislature, resulting in legislative hearing in which the OFA Administrator, this office and a representative of your office were involved,” the letter to the Governor said.  “The sentiments expressed were negative.”

Indeed, in December, Meileen Albert, Chief Representative of the Sapwuafik Municipal Government notified FSM Attorney General Joses Gallen of an attempt by Young Sun International and a Sapwuahfik resident to harvest sea cucumber there.  “My concern is that we are a small community that depends highly on our coastal resources for our well-being,” her letter said.  “Ours is also a peaceful community with simple lives uncorrupted by the influence of the kinds of business proposition of mass harvest of our coastal resources for pecuniary gains of a few. I really am concerned that this foreign national will irreversibly and irreparably harm both the peaceful and harmonious community that we are as well as the balance of the coastal resources that we have so depended on for our wellbeing for hundreds of years.”

The settlement for the partial lifting of the TRO proposed by the Mwoal En Wau states as part of its reasoning for the motion that it was satisfied, based on Pohnpei State Government’s assurance that it has conducted a wild stock assessment of sea cucumber on the reef flats of Sapwuafik.  It also pointed to the State’s reseeding of approximately 300,000 hatchery produced surf redfish and black teatfish sea cucumber juveniles late last year as a sufficient basis to allow for harvest.  It said that they had also received endorsement of the traditional leaders of Sapwuahfik, and Speaker Mentiensahpw reflecting Peiweileng, the Government of Sapwuahfik, and the people of Sapwuahfik’s support for the commercialization of sea cucumber there.

This week, Augustine told The Kaselehlie Press that OFA currently has no plans for a sea cucumber harvest in Supwuahfik, unless and until the restraining order banning it is lifted.  Even if the TRO is ultimately lifted, the law would still require the State to provide a sustainable management plan before there could be a harvest.