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Op-Ed: CAMPAIGN PROPAGANDA AND FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT

From my experience, politicians usually fail to deliver on many of their campaign promises, and this is evident here in American Samoa also. For this campaign season, I decided to study the new menu of promises offered by all of the gubernatorial candidates through their published platforms. I chose to bypass the team that is in administration leadership now, because regardless of the promises, we already know what they can do. The A-Team of this group have been there for almost 16 years, and we see what we have now. Do you think the B-Team will be better? 

So, I started with an off-shoot of this administration as Lolo and Lemanu and major followers are also part of this administration in some shape or form. I was curious to see what they had to offer that would be different. Focusing on economic development as that is what I am most curious about, I did not find much exciting new ideas nor realistic approaches. 

The first action by Lolo/ Lemanu in the first 100 days would be “to sit down with …the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines to work out strategies that will be mutually beneficial to the company as well as the people of American Samoa in terms of cheaper fares”.  My understanding is that Governor Togiola has sat with the CEO — in front, at both sides, behind him, etc., etc. —  and did whatever was possible to convince this guy to have some consideration for American Samoa with airfares.  Simply put, we all know they’re making profits from the American Samoa route, but we also all know that Hawaiian Airlines has the upper-hand, it’s called monopoly, and I don’t think Lolo or Lemanu are more capable, more experienced or savvy to convince them any more than Governor Togiola.  Governor Togiola used to be owner of an airline, and he continues to work on this issue, so if he has been incapable to do this up to now, who are these guys to believe that they can do it? 

My reading became very interesting when I came across proposals for FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT. 

This is of utmost importance to me, as aside from the fact that fisheries is the base of American Samoa’s economy, this is also my area of expertise after working 30+ years specifically in fisheries development around the world. My first impression is that this team has black holes of knowledge in most of their economic development proposals, and I am giving the benefit of the doubt in the minor ones. However, this is a big concern, and I offer specific examples on some of their proposals:

FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT:

L/L proposal for Short Term (1st 100 days):

 “Provide assistance to the local fishermen targeting catch improvement to provide sufficient supply in the market place to warrant the stoppage of imports.”

My assessment: This absolutely makes no sense  — regardless of how you see it. How can they improve our catches? Are they going to start teaching the fishermen how to fish or maybe they know exactly where the fish are at? Additionally, some of the fish species imported are not available here, are they going to import them ‘live’ for us to catch it? No sense whatsoever.

•“Establish a more conducive facility where the fishermen can sell their fish if they so choose.”

My assessment: There is an existing facility to sell fish to the public. For most of the fishermen, we also already know which restaurants and stores want to buy fish and which species they need.

•“Support current efforts to capitalize on the utilization of miscellaneous fish being shipped off island from which no economic value is accrued to the territory.”

My assessment: Are they insinuating that we are sending fish without getting paid? If fish is being shipped off, it is because they were sold and it is because you cannot sell it here. Does this not have economic value to the territory?

L/L proposal for Long Term (2 – 4 years) Fisheries Development:

•“Collaborate with our delegate and friends in Washington to help provide incentives enticing the canneries to stay.”

My assessment:  This has been an ongoing effort for the last several decades by EVERYONE. It is not a brand new concept, and everyone has participated in this effort. The effort should be on a realistic plan B should the canneries depart.

•“Collaborate with the private sector to encourage investment in the purchase of fishing vessels to allow American Samoans to supply fish to the canneries as well as supplying fish for the sashimi market in Hawaii and Japan.”

My assessment: There are already plans between canneries and boat owners on this effort, and we’re moving forward with this, please don’t touch it or screw it up. The banks don’t loan money for boats, and the governments (including US) have other priorities. This team must also not know that there are limited fishing permits to give or to buy in American Samoa. The local government has absolutely no say in the actual issuance of longline permits as they’re issued by NOAA and that fishery is managed by the WPRFMC. 

•“Assess the domestication of seafood products such as shrimps, clams, oysters, shell fish, lobsters, eel, crabs and others with high value.”

My assessment:  Dreams can come true but not always. It’s good propaganda, but it is not realistic. This has been discussed many times before — nice plan but difficult to do — even for someone like me that believes that the only difference between difficult and impossible is a little effort. The reality is you would be competing with China on shrimp. Ecuador that is a major producer of shrimp is dying, because China can produce massive amounts of shrimp with the best quality at much lower prices. Our impediment is lack of monies and most importantly, prioritizing where we are going to put the little monies that we get to develop rapidly. Change your dreams and please be realistic.

•“Assist current operators to ascertain needed financing to complete fish filleting and packaging operations for exports to outside markets.”

My assessment:  This was a need before, but right now it is being developed by Trimarine (Samoa Tuna Processors) with their new plant and equipment. They’re investing more than $5million on this venture. It would be suicidal for any other American Samoa businessman to compete with Trimarine; I would not dare to do so, and I am sure neither would the majority of boat owners.

Frankly, the author(s) of these fishery proposal have no clue what they’re talking about. I invite anyone to read this platform — it’s on their website — you will confirm that they’re either dreaming or they don’t know what they’re talking about. 

I can go on and on about more of the unrealistic proposals, but this would be very lengthy.  However, I wanted to share something that shows the complete ignorance of this team in the fishing industry. 

The 1st priority in INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT is unrelated to fishing, but demands the establishment of call centers. We all know where this effort is at now. Simply, this is an issue of minimum wage. This activity can be done in China, in Latin America, in India and even in Apia for less labor costs than here. Again, please be realistic. 

The most ridiculous proposals of all are the 2nd and 3rd proposals for Industrial Development:

“Seek funding to facilitate purchase of purser-seiner type fishing vessel to supply fish to the canneries.” 

Here is the truth:  One purse seiner?

The cost of Purse seiners go from $10,000,000 for used (please count the zeroes) to $30,000,000 for a new one. There are about 20 to 22 crew members; 3 individuals have to be licensed officers and 3 have to be technicians in different areas. We don’t have any of those here in American Samoa, and you cannot produce them in 4 years. So out of 22, we can maybe give jobs to 16 crew members that would be at an investment of at least $15,000,000 to start. At a minimum, these seiners use average 150,000 gallons per trip at $4 per gallon = $600,000 dollars per trip, then you need oil, salt, food, supplies, net, etc.. This comes to at least a $750,000 investment per trip, and if you don’t catch anything, you lose. 

The justification they give is to SUPPLY FISH TO THE CANNERIES. Now, one cannery needs about 150,000 tons of fish per year and when the two canneries operate, they will need more than 200,000 tons per year. So, let’s say they buy the best purse seiner in town. It will cost more than $15 million minimum, and you can produce between 8,000 – 10,000 tons per year if you know what you are really doing.  What kind of help is that to the canneries with this big investment?  Does this sound logical when the government can’t find $3 million dollars for the hospital?  You be the judge.

I say, one of the supporters of this team must want to own a purse seiner. 

•Establish an albacore fishing industry…

Guess what: We already have an albacore fishing industry — and it is maxed out — there are only so many permits available! The American Samoa Government doesn’t issue these, the federal government does.

The question here is: Are these platforms just propaganda to impress people or do these politicians think that we are all idiots? Maybe all the candidates are doing the same thing? So, if you are an expert in any of the subjects that are being talked about like education, human resources, health, agriculture, etc., please participate in the discussion and provide your expert opinion. 

We, the voters, have to convince the politicians that we are watching them, and they can’t fool us with a bunch of fancy adjectives or verbs. It is more important they know what they’re talking about, and in this particular case, they need lots of education in the area of fisheries development!

Lastly, it is important to keep my assessments fair, and I will venture over to other candidates’ proposals on economic development especially fisheries and share a review of them. 

I will review in the following order:  Save & Sandra, Salu & Iuni, Afoa & Le’i, and Faoa & Taufete’e.

 

(Carlos Sanchez currently serves as the Chairman of the American Samoa Shipyard Services Authority and is the general manager of the shipyard's operations — on a volunteer basis.  He has assisted Governor Togiola Tulafono with fishery developments, such as the effort to secure Trimarine as the second tuna plant. He is the co-owner of a local longliner fishing company, Longline Services, Inc. and a member of the local Tautai-O-Samoa-Longline & Fishing Association. His experience in the fisheries industry, including with StarKist, spans 30 plus years.

Heis also the son-in-law of Afoa Moega Lutu, who is running for governor on the Afoa and Le’i team in the local 2012 gubernatorial election.

Sanchez says that he is willing to help any candidate or any community leader that asks his opinion in the area of fisheries. “I have offered to do this for the current administration and continue to volunteer my time to help with developments. Aside from my father-in-law, I have already spent time with Lt. Governor candidate Sandra Young of the gubernatorial team Save & Sandra, and she knows that she can count on me to help with fishery developments. If someone believes that I can help, they are welcome to contact me directly.  I will continue to help the community with fishery developments, which I believe is the keystone to our territory’s economic well being.)



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