Tri Marine says local longline fleet vital to economy
Tri Marine International, parent company of Samoa Tuna Processors, Inc. (STP) is putting its full support behind the local longline fishing fleet that posted “For Sale” signs on its close to 20 boats last Thursday. STP is currently building out cannery operations in the territory and its fresh and frozen plant will commence operations next month.
Tautai Samoa Longline and Fishing Association member Christina Lutu-Sanchez She told Samoa News more than a week ago that Tri Marine is among the three U.S. canneries that have either written or provided verbal support for the local longline fishing fleet.
Among the challenges faced by the local longliners is competition from Chinese vessels, now fishing in the region, with their boats subsidized by their government.
Responding to Samoa News questions and a request for comments, Tri Marine vice president of production, Dan Sullivan said the company believes the local fishing boats, i.e. the boats based in American Samoa, “are vital to the tuna processing industry in the territory and to its economy.”
He said, “Without the local boats, the canneries would have to rely solely on imported fish, which is sometimes difficult to source,” and pointed out that Tri Marine’s decision to build Samoa Tuna Processors was based on the fact that there are longliner and purse seiner fishing fleets based in American Samoa.
“We believe that the relationship between these fleets and the canneries is symbiotic as each depends on the other,” Sullivan said. He noted there are 20 purse seiners based in American Samoa — half of them belong to Cape Fisheries, a Tri Marine company.
According to Sullivan, these purse seiners catch mostly skipjack and yellow fin, which make up about 75% of the raw material needed by the canneries — the rest of the raw material requirement is albacore, which is caught by longliners, and Tri Marine does not own any longliners.
He explained there are over 50 long liners based in the Territory and about half are US flagged and are locally owned, while the other half are under a foreign flag, mostly Taiwanese. However, Sullivan says that in the past few years there has been an increase in the number of Chinese built and flagged longliners entering the fishery and making deliveries to Pago Pago. (This has also been a concern raised by the longline boat owners and others).
The Tri Marine VP said these Chinese boats are heavily subsidized — construction, fuel, licenses, freight, etc., by the China government.
“Their cost of catching is obviously much less than the non-subsidized fleets. To make matters worse for the local fishermen, the amount of fish the Chinese vessels catch has added to the overall supply resulting in a decline in the price of albacore,” he said.
Sullivan noted Tri Marine supports the local longline fleets, and it has interest in purchasing their catches whether it is for processing in the territory or elsewhere. Furthermore, Samoa Tuna Processors’ fresh and frozen plant will commence operations next month thereby providing a ready market for not only the albacore but also the other species caught by the American Samoa based longline fleets.
“The canning operations of Samoa Tuna Processors will greatly increase the demand for the catch from these boats starting from January of next year,” he said. “All the locally based boats contribute substantially to the economy of the territory. They buy fuel and supplies. Their crews give business to the hotels and restaurants. They provide both direct and indirect employment. They give work to the shipyard and repair companies.”
“Without the support from the local longline and purse seiner fleets, the operation of the canneries in the territory would be severely penalized as they would have to depend solely on imported fish,” he concluded.