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Shipyard Authority chair urges subsidy for longliners

fili@samoanews.com

On behalf of the ASG Shipyard Service Authority board, chairman David Robinson recently proposed to the Governor’s Office a fuel subsidy or further reduction in fuel costs  to help the American Samoa longline fleet, which is facing low prices received for their catches.
 
Robinson told Samoa News yesterday that the shipyard’s proposal was submitted to the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira and it was discussed with him about two weeks ago. He also has discussed the proposal with Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele “and both agreed that something must be done in the short term to help the local longliner fleet” and they are working on a list of possibilities.
 
“We all have an interest in the longliners remaining viable as they are a significant contributor to the local economy in many different sectors,” said Robinson, the outgoing  chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce.
 
Iulogologo told Samoa News that the Chamber chairman had recommended to the governor an ASG fuel subsidy but local fuel suppliers have stated that American Samoa has the lowest fuel prices in the Pacific.
 
According to a copy of the proposal, Robinson shared with the governor’s office that a  significant part of the present fiscal year revenue projections in the Shipyard Services Authority 2014 budget was based on repairs to 24 longliner fishing boats.
 
(The Shipyard’s FY 2014 budget states that for 24 longliners it is forecasting to collect $840,000 in this fiscal year. Total budget for the shipyard, which doesn’t receive any ASG subsidy, stands at $2.03 million)
 
And at a recent shipyard Board meeting “considerable concern was expressed about the current issues facing the local longliner fleet in respect to the low cost for fish being obtained for their catches and the high cost of operating the vessels with the cost of fuel being the most significant influence,” he said.
 
“Some owners have complained that the amount they are presently receiving for their catch is hundreds of dollars below their operational break-even point,”  he said and explained that it might cost a longliner operator on average about $45,000 a round trip for fuel and they might each make about five trips a year.
 
For example, at $45,000 a round trip in fuel, times five trips for 20 vessels, that is $4.5 million, he said.
 
The Office of Petroleum Management reports that sales of diesel fuel to the commercial fishing fleet (longliners/ purse seiners) in 2012 were $15.4 million gallons and to date in 2013, it’s 16 million gallons, the proposal says.
 
“Fishing vessels are exempt from excise tax and terminal fees and therefore fuel costs are already considered to be the cheapest in the Pacific,” Robinson said, but also noted, “This may be so, but the point is that the longline vessel owners need more assistance at present than they currently receive, so a further reduction in fuel costs should be considered.”
 
He said it’s thought that there are anywhere between 8-10 local longliners for sale at present and there might be more in the New Year. Additionally, there are about 20 vessels in total operating from American Samoa.
 
“If there is any further reduction in the longliner fleet it will have a severe impact on our shipyard business in the short and medium term,” he said, adding that the board would like to meet with the governor at a time that suits his schedule to discuss ways in which it might be possible to arrange some form of fuel subsidy or other form of assistance to help the fishing vessels that are based here.
 
He also says OPM, fuel suppliers and the DOC should be invited to join the meeting.
 
“Not only would some form of fuel subsidy be a significant help to the local vessels it would be a major attraction for other vessels that have a base elsewhere in the Pacific to start to visit here to buy fuel and have repairs done at the same time,” he said.
 
The governor has already appointed a committee to identify ways to help the longline fleet and the committee is currently finalizing their report for submission to the governor.
 
(Samoa News was also told there are offers to buy many of the local longliners by Chinese fisheries, while others by South American fisheries. The vessels would still operate out of Pago and list the US territory as "home port" — which means they can apply for US fishing licenses — thereby allowing fishing within US and American Samoa waters, as well as labeling the fish as "US-caught" fish, but the longliners would be "foreign-owned".)



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