Gov Lolo meets with longline boat owners; sets up Task Force, promises action
During a meeting Tuesday morning, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga asked members of the local longline fishing boat owners association to give the government two weeks to review their requests for the type of assistance needed, and then they will convene another meeting, says Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, who attended the meeting.
This was confirmed by boat owner Mrs. Christina Lutu-Sanchez, who also attended the meeting, which included some cabinet directors who were there to support the needs of the local longliner fleet.
The meeting with the governor followed a request more than a week ago from Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association president Rasela Feliciano, as the longline boat owners put their boats up for sale.
Responding to questions, Iulogologo said the same concerns, which were covered by Samoa News since late last year, were also presented by the longline members during the meeting with the governor.
Mrs. Feliciano is currently off island, so Mrs. Christina Lutu-Sanchez made the presentation to the governor on behalf of the boat owners, he said.
“The governor told the group to give the government two-weeks in which to fully evaluate the requests from the Tautai vessel owners, at which time he will meet with them again to present the government’s plans relative to the type of assistance that it will provide,” Iulogologo said yesterday.
He told Samoa News that the governor has already requested assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess and recommend the best location within the harbor for the construction of additional docking space.
Additionally, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources has graciously allowed the fishing vessels to temporarily tie up at the Marine Resources Wharf. Moreover Port Administration has “already started investigating the placement of buoys to provide temporary anchoring of fishing vessels.”
Attorney General-appointee Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Commerce Department Director Keniseli Lafaele will head the Task Force that comprises the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director, Port Administration director, the Chief Procurement Officer, Tim Jones (a longline fishing boat owner), and the Governor's Chief Legal Counsel. It will be their task to assess and come up with recommendations on how to address the requests posed by the Tautai fishing vessel owners, he said.
Mrs. Lutu-Sanchez described the meeting as “good”, saying they considered the meeting "very positive." She said the boat owners and representatives are appreciative of the opportunity to meet with the governor. She said the boat owners “re-presented those issues that we had presented before— including ones in the newspaper like the excise tax on fish, docking, etc.”
“The governor was very receptive and reassured us that economic development is still his priority— including fisheries— and he asked for two-weeks for his team to put together a response to what we presented verbally and in writing,” she said Tuesday night.
She also said cabinet members present at the meeting “were genuinely interested” and everyone was ready to assist. “We are hopeful, and we look forward to the next meeting,” she noted.
Meanwhile, boat owners have offered to be available for any information that the government may need, she said, adding that her husband, Carlos Sanchez has also offered to work with the Commerce Department (which he already has started to do) to address the lack of American Samoans in needed occupations. These are occupations such as officers on fishing vessels, mechanics and skilled workers that are needed for the plants and fishing fleet (seiner/ longliners).
“Because of lack of available or qualified American Samoans, many expats have to be brought in to fill these positions,” she said.
(Carlos and Christina Sanchez own a fleet of locally based longline fishing vessels.)
ASG officials who attended the meeting included the ASG Treasurer; Human Resources director; Commerce director; Chief Procurement Officer; DMWR director, and Port Administration deputy director.
Besides Mr. and Mrs. Sanchez, others representing the boat owners were John Gibbs, Edgar Feliciano and Mr. Park with Mee Won Inc.
In his address to the Fono last week, the governor said he will convene a task force to assess how ASG can provide “consistent assistance to our business assets such as our local fishing fleet.”
Besides American Samoa, the fishing fleet industry elsewhere is faced with challenges of their own and has drastically scaled back operations.
According to the Fiji Sun newspaper, two major fishing companies in that country— Fiji Fish Marketing Group and Solander (Pacific) Limited—have been forced to shut down most of their operations because it is no longer economically viable to continue fishing. The two companies have also been forced to lay off a significant number of staff.
The Fiji Sun points out that 75% of Fiji's domestic tuna fleet has ceased operations, and quotes an official of Fiji Fish saying, “The industry has been struck an unfair and fatal blow by the hundreds of state-subsidized foreign vessels which have surrounded Fiji.”
Tautai o Samoa association told Samoa News that among the obstacles they face is the increase of Chinese fishing vessels in the region and the Chinese government subsidizes these boats.
Lolo told lawmakers last week that the territory's “economic future is being threatened by China as it uses its economic and financial muscle to create a monopoly in the fisheries industry.”
“Our local longline fishing industry is threatened because applicable federal policies create an uneven operating field, giving the Chinese fishing vessels unfair competitive advantages,” he said. “The provision of subsidies by China worsens the situation. The same scenario could someday hold true for fish canning operations.”
Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley contributed to this report.
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