We interviewed elder fishermen in American Samoa to better understand their perspectives on traditional use and management of marine resources and changes in the status of certain species over the course of time. Elder fishermen provide an important source of information in a context of limited catch data, declining fishing effort, and evolving local fishing traditions. Most fishermen interviewed during the study described a decline in the quality of various nearshore habitats, a general decrease in abundance of edible reef fish, and diminished abundance of locally valued palolo, atule, giant clams, and octopus. Populations of reef sharks and turtles are typically seen as stable or increasing. Fishermen from the relatively densely populated island of Tutuila tended to report a greater decrease in abundance of marine resources in general than did fishermen from the more remote Manu'a Islands. Elder fishermen commonly reported deterioration of nearshore and shoreline habitats as an issue of concern. Many interviewees also asserted that past use of destructive fishing methods has led to a decline in marine resources in the region. The fishermen generated various recommendations for improving local fisheries, including: reducing runoff-related pollution and sediment, preventing destructive fishing methods, and establishing marine protected areas. Although traditional marine tenure systems are no longer as influential in American Samoa as they were in the past, various rules regarding appropriate use of local marine ecosystems and associated resources continue to be implemented across the islands.
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Vol. 67 • No. 3