Social Research to Inform the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Plan

On January 6, 2009, President George Bush established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM), as well as new marine monuments (MNMs) at Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands (Proclamation 8335). This research initiative is conducting socioeconomic studies to support development of a management plan for the MTMNM.

Designation of the MTMNM was accompanied by contentious social debate over the merits of designation, the economic benefits, the effects of increased federal management in the archipelago, the impacts to fishermen and fishing communities, and other effects. However, there was no objective social research conducted to provide input into the designation process. The PIFSC Socioeconomics Program completed two projects to provide valuable social information for managers and regulators as they develop and implement the management plan.

The first project, Sociocultural Aspects of Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, describes CNMI and Guam residents' management preferences and perceptions of effects of the designation of the MTMNM. PIFSC researchers implemented a telephone survey of 1,000 Guam and CNMI residents soliciting information on their awareness of and attitudes toward the new MNMs; associated values, beliefs, and behaviors; and priorities for the management plan and research efforts. Survey topics included detailed questions about the respondents' knowledge and perceptions of the MNMs, as well as their support or opposition of the benefits that the MNMs will provide to Guam and CNMI residents. A special set of questions captured respondents’ participation in cultural activities, including past and current fishing and boating activity in the area. Final questions focused on respondents’ likely participation in MNM-based activities, the importance of fishing to their household, and family and demographic characteristics.

Some preliminary results are as follows:

  • 40% of CNMI residents had heard of the MTMNM before it was designated, 23% after it was designated, and 37% had never heard of it (so were learning about it for the first time through the survey). In contrast, just 18% of Guam residents had heard about the MTMNM before it was designated, 11% after it was designated, and 71% had never heard of it prior to the phone survey.
  • 21% of CNMI residents said they knew quite a bit about the MTMNM, 21% said they knew a moderate amount, and 57% said they knew little or nothing about it. Similarly, 16% of Guam residents said they knew quite a bit about the MTMNM, 25% said they knew a moderate amount, and 58% said they knew little or nothing about it.
  • 18% of CNMI residents said they initially had strong support for the MTMNM when they first heard about it, 31% had support, 12% were opposed, 5% strongly opposed, and 24% were neutral. Similarly, 19% of Guam residents said they initially had strong support for the MTMNM, 34% had support, 9% were opposed, 2% strongly opposed, and 30% were neutral.
  • When asked how they felt about the MTMNM now (near the end of the survey), 51% of CNMI residents said they have strong support for the MTMNM, 20% have support, 2% are opposed, 6% strongly opposed, and 19% are neutral. Similarly, 47% of Guam residents said they currently have strong support for the MTMNM, 25% support it, 3% are opposed, 4% strongly opposed, and 20% are neutral.
  • 87% of CNMI residents and 77% of Guam residents said they would like to be updated on the status of the MTMNM plan.

The second project, An Assessment of Traditional Fishing Patterns in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, describes traditional fishing patterns in waters around Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas), Maug, and Asuncion--the Islands Unit of the MTMNM. The Proclamation prohibited commercial fishing within the Islands Unit but made provisions for certain types of noncommercial fishing to continue. The results will provide a scientific basis for addressing the issue of traditional access and traditional indigenous fishing in the Monument Management Plan being developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA. In November 2011, PIFSC Social Research Project Manager Dawn Kotowicz and former PIFSC Social Research Project Manager Laurie Richmond gathered oral histories from fishermen and others who have traveled to and fished in the waters surrounding the Northern Islands of the Marianas Archipelago. Additional oral histories were collected on a second trip by Judy Amesbury, a contractor working on the project, and PIFSC Social Scientist Risa Oram. Collectively, these 32 oral histories with a total of 40 people document past and contemporary experiences in or near Islands Unit waters gained through unstructured conversations based on peoples’ individual experiences. The goals of this research are to:

  1. Document past and contemporary trips to the waters and lands of the Islands Unit;
  2. Describe perspectives and experiences of the people participating in these trips; and
  3. Explore the historical and cultural connections between residents of CNMI and Guam with the Northern Mariana Islands, especially those of the Islands Unit and their surrounding waters.

The main findings illustrate the importance of trips to the Islands Unit waters for maintaining strong cultural connections between residents of the most populated islands of the CNMI (Saipan, Tinian and Rota) and the waters and islands of the northernmost islands that make up the Island Unit of the MTMNM. These findings are supported by the following key points:

  • Trips to the Islands Unit did not occur often, with approximately 3.8 trips per year from 1979-2010. Among those, many "commercial" fishing trips were not undertaken with the anticipation of making a profit.
  • Possibly because of the rarity of the trips, each trip often included many activities including fishing on most trips, regardless of their stated primary purpose.
  • Sharing fish that were caught in the Northern Islands, especially the Islands Unit waters with family and friends, is an important way of maintaining cultural connections with other islands in the Marianas chain.

Presentations

Kotowicz DM
2014. Managing Historic and Scientific Resources in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Ocean Sciences Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, February.
Kotowicz DM
2013. Results of Human Dimensions Monument-Related Research. Marianas Archipelago Ecosystem Science Implementation Workshop. Saipan, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, May 20.
Kotowicz D, Richmond L, Oram R
2012. Traditional Fishing Patterns in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: 153rd Council Meeting. Saipan, MP. March 5.
Oram R, Kotowicz D, Richmond L
2012. Traditional Fishing Patterns in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, 18h International Symposium on Society and Resource Management, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada., June 21.

Reports

Kotowicz DM, Allen SD
2015. Results of a survey of CNMI and Guam residents on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, PIFSC Data Report, DR-13-009, 55 p.
Richmond L, Kotowicz D
2015. Equity and access in marine protected areas: The history and future of 'traditional indigenous fishing' in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Applied Geography 2014: 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.11.007
Kotowicz D, Richmond L
2013. Traditional fishing patterns in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Administrative Report H-13-05, 46 p.

Summary Data Products

Results of a survey of CNMI and Guam residents on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
Traditional Fishing in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
Stories of the Islands Unit - A short documentary presenting peoples' recollections of traveling to and living in the three northernmost Mariana Islands - Asuncion, Maug and Uracas - now the Islands Unit of the MTMNM.