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Guam Senator Says Indigenous Fishing Laws Unimplemented
4 years after legislation, Agriculture Dept. blamed for inaction

By Louella Losinio

HAGTA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Feb. 15, 2013) – Four years after the passage of legislation supporting the preservation and protection of indigenous fishing rights, a set of rules and regulations have yet to be finalized, putting Guam’s Department of Agriculture under fire during a recent public hearing at the Legislature.

The department has been identified by P.L. 29-127 as the agency tasked to spearhead the development of the rules and regulations.

"As much as we were pushing to get these rules and regs out to have some semblance of recognizing indigenous fishing practices and have this matter finally resolved, you know what that inaction translated to? It translated to angry fishermen pointing fingers at the Legislature," said Sen. Rory J. Respicio, who chairs the committee with oversight on the issue.

According to the department, several drafts had already been developed over the years since the passage of the law. However, Respicio questioned the delays in finalizing the draft and convening a public hearing.

"It is my resolve that the Department of Agriculture will be held accountable for the lack of recognition for indigenous fishing rights. And that is where we are at today," Respicio said.

Former Sen. Judi Guthertz authored P.L. 29-127, which was passed in 2008 and vetoed by former Gov. Felix Camacho in November of the same year.

The following month, it was subsequently enacted into public law by virtue of a 15-0 override by the Legislature.

Challenges

The veto occurred, according to Camacho, based on "challenges it would create for government of Guam finances, effective resource management, and a more holistic approach to addressing indigenous rights questions on Guam."

The veto document cited the possible impact of the legislation to federal funding received by resource management agencies as among the challenges.

Celistino Aguon, Chief of the Division on Aquatic & Wildlife Resources, raised this funding concern, saying the department understands the sensitivity of implementing the regulations as they pertain to the division’s funding opportunities.

Aguon said the agency receives close to $6 million in federal funding for grant opportunities which benefits the island. Documents necessary for grant funding includes provisions related to assurances related to nondiscrimination, he said.

Respicio responded by saying the Attorney General’s Office had already issued an opinion stating the constitutionality of the law. However, Aguon said they also have a document from the AGO saying that the decision on whether or not the rules and regulations are not discriminatory will not be known until the rules are put forward.

"It is up for the funders to tell us whether it is or it is not. I think that’s the caution we have to throw," Aguon said.

In April 2009, the Attorney General’s Office stated an opinion on the law saying, "the stated intent of the legislation is to redress prior discriminatory practices in establishing special fishing rights for the Chamorro people. As such, it is presumed that the legislation is constitutional."

Aguon and the Department of Agriculture officials present at the hearing assured the Legislature that a public hearing will be convened as part of the process set in the Administrative Adjudication Act, to discuss the proposed draft rules and regulations.

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