Study Documents Traditional Practices of Fishing and Resource Management in American Samoa

A study was recently conducted to preserve knowledge of traditional fishing methods and resource management customs in American Samoa. Marine resources are essential to the subsistence and culture of American Samoa fishing communities. Fishing communities have long employed village-based methods of management to protect and maintain local marine resources. However, American Samoa is rapidly changing, both culturally and economically, with the result that much traditional knowledge held by village elders is at risk of being lost in less than a generation.

The study was funded through NOAA's Preserve America Initiative Grant, with additional support from American Samoa's Coral Reef Advisory Group and contributions from American Samoa-based partners. Its goal was to document historic and traditional fishing, changes in fishing and marine resource management over time, and other traditional knowledge of American Samoan fishermen.

Interviews with elder fishermen tapped into their knowledge of traditional methods of fishing and managing marine resources in American Samoa.

The project had several components. First, elders were asked to describe marine resource use and changes in management practices over time. To collect the information, several American Samoa researchers including Fialoa Maiava and Bert Fuiava of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Fatima Sauafea-Leau of the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, and Fale Tuilagi of the National Park Service interviewed elder fishermen from villages throughout Tutuila and the Manu'a Islands of American Samoa. Arielle Levine of the PIFSC Human Dimensions Program provided technical support.

Between November 2007 and March 2008, in-depth interviews were conducted with 78 elder fishermen from 28 villages. Fishermen ranged in age from 40 to 86, with 90% older than 50. Sixty percent were from Tutuila and 40% from the outer Manu'a islands. In consultation with partner agencies, the team developed a list of interview questions focusing on historical changes in fishing frequency, catch and fish abundance, fishing areas, local harvest restrictions, traditional methods of management, importance of marine resources to the Samoan way of life, and other elements of traditional knowledge.

Transcripts of the interviews and translations from Samoan to English will be produced using funds from a 2008 Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant in Marine Environmental History and Historical Marine Ecology, provided by the Marine Conservation Biology Institute. The work will be completed in cooperation with the Samoan Studies Institute of American Samoan Community College, allowing for more detailed analysis of interview results in the future. Digital recordings and written transcriptions and translations of the elder interviews will be provided to the NOAA Fisheries Voices from the Fisheries Oral History Project, making them available to a national audience.

In another part of the project, contractor David Herdrich of the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO) completed a report, Historic Fishing Methods in American Samoa, documenting historic fishing and resource management techniques before 1950. The report compiles information predating the living memory of most elder fishermen. In collaboration with Karen Armstrong (University of Helsinki), Herdrich reviewed archival records at the ASHPO office and accounts of American Samoa originating from early explorers, anthropologists, and administrators and archived in the University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Herdrich's report assimilates and summarizes written records describing historic fishing practices for a variety of fish species, traditional fishing techniques and gears, cultural beliefs and practices, marine use and management, archeological findings, and other historic information pertaining to fishing in American Samoa. The report includes a collection of historic photographs and illustrations and accounts of local legends. The report has been distributed to local stakeholders in American Samoa. It will be published as a NOAA Technical Memorandum and made widely available on the Web.

Finally, a 30-minute video was produced documenting traditional fishing techniques unique to the Samoa Islands and still in use today. The video was produced in cooperation with Fred Ahoia, an American Samoan videographer with Rootz Island Productions, and premiered at the Pacific Arts Festival's Film Festival in American Samoa on July 29, 2008. After final edits, copies of the video will be made available in DVD form to local schools and agencies and used for education and outreach programs.

For more information contact: Arielle Levine