Fish supply shortages causing StarKist to shutdown for a week

fili@samoanews.com

As a result of fish-supply shortages, StarKist Co. has confirmed that its StarKist Samoa operation in American Samoa will shut down for one week next month.

Samoa News learned Monday from some StarKist Samoa cannery workers of the shutdown starting Oct. 10 — right after the White Sunday holiday — but they weren’t sure as to the reason for it. The workers were a little pleased with the one week shutdown because it follows a holiday on Monday and they could spend a longer period of time with families in Samoa for White Sunday.

However, other workers say the weeklong shutdown will impact their paychecks. Additionally, any shut down of the cannery for a longer period of time will also have a financial impact on private aiga buses, which provide charter bus transportation for StarKist workers.

Responding to Samoa News’ request for comments on the shutdown, StarKist Co., spokesperson Michelle Faist provided a company statement, which confirmed the shutdown during the week of October 10 and the shutdown is due to “fish-supply shortages”.

This is the second time in the past twelve months the StarKist Samoa plant has temporarily shut down manufacturing due to fish-supply issues facing the facility, according to the statement. 

“Limited freezer capability and the lack of space to expand the freezer have negatively impacted the company’s operational efficiency over the years,” said Faist.

However, the issue is further amplified due to fewer deliveries of fish now being made to American Samoa as a result of the closure of fishing on the high seas, US economic exclusive zones (EEZs) and other traditional fishing grounds to the U.S. fishing fleets, according to StarKist.

While fish are currently being delivered via reefer vessel, the cannery said the volume is not enough to keep the plant running as originally scheduled in October. In addition, securing fish from alternative supply sources, such as reefer vessels, is limited, expensive and unsustainable over the long term.

“We recognize this shut down is a disruption to our workers, and appreciate their understanding during this time,” said Faist. “The StarKist Samoa plant is expected to re-open on Monday, October 17, after additional deliveries are made to the plant.”

Responding to a request for comment from Tri Maine International’s local cannery operation, Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., about whether or not it is facing the same problem as StarKist Samoa, Tri Marine’s chief operation officer Joe Hamby said both Samoa Tuna Processors and StarKist, have been impacted by the closure of the high seas fishing grounds.

Hamby, however, declined to comment on whether Samoa Tuna Processors plans to shut down because of any fish supply shortage or if the cannery has sufficient fish supply.

Since early last year, Tri Marine, which has a locally based purse seiner fleet, along with ASG and others have called on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to relax those restrictions — fishing on high seas, US EEZ, etc. — because American Samoa is a small island developing (SID) territory and should be exempted.

They argue that if the American Samoa-based tuna purse seiners could fish in the high seas, they wouldn't have to be tied up, or move to more distant fishing grounds.

ELAPS RESTRICTIONS

The US National Marine Fisheries Service issued May 25 an interim rule setting for the year 2016 a limit of 1,828 fishing days for US purse seine vessels to fish in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (U.S. EEZ) and on the high seas area known in federal regulations as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine, or ELAPS. NMFS says it expects the fishing days to be used up by some time in June.

According to Tri Marine, high seas fishing days are limited to 1,270 and 558 for the US EEZ. And Tri Marine, along with Congresswoman Aumua Amata, and the American Samoa Fisheries Task Force in June this year joined ASG and others in calling on the federal government to increase the number of fishing days on the high seas for the US purse seiner fleet, which continues to face competition from fishing fleets from other countries.

Than on Aug. 25, NMFS published a final rule saying that the ELAPS will close — effective Sept. 2 to Dec. 31, 2016 — as a result of reaching the 2016 fishing day limit.

NMFS says this action is necessary for the U.S to implement provisions of a conservation and management measure adopted by the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPFC) and to satisfy the obligations of the U.S under the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (Convention), to which it is a Contracting Party.

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