Local longline fleet obtains a lifeline — Marine stewardship fisheries certification

MSC eco-label tuna is a growing U.S. market, says StarKist
fili@samoanews.com

American Samoa has requested that neighboring Samoa have its longline vessel fleet deliver fish to the territory, home of the StarKist Samoa cannery, whose workforce is 80% from the independent state.

Meanwhile, the American Samoa-based US flagged longline fleet, which supplies albacore tuna to the cannery, has secured what industry officials say is the “prestigious” Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Fisheries Certification, a process funded by StarKist Inc.

SAMOA LONGLINE FLEET

Samoa’s longline fleet delivering their catch to Pago Pago was one of the many issues discussed and agreed upon during last week’s Two Samoa Talks, according to the meeting communique, which notes that the tuna industry represents a significant aspect of American Samoa’s economy.

With the relocation of longliners from the territory to Samoa, the communique says  American Samoa requests that measures be considered by Samoa to direct the tuna supply to the StarKist cannery instead of Asian countries.

“This is especially relevant because 80% of the workers at StarKist [Samoa] are Samoa citizens,” it pointed out and noted that the matter needs to be further discussed with the engagement of the private sector.

StarKist Samoa closed for two weeks in August this year due to lack of fish supplies, which company official, Taotasi Archie Soliai told the October meeting of the Western Pacific Council, held in the territory that fish supply is expected to remain a challenge for the cannery towards the end of this year and in to 2018.

The cannery last week Monday resumed production after being closed for five weeks for equipment upgrade and maintenance.

Samoa News learned over the weekend that the cannery had a production operation last Saturday (Dec. 2), with some cannery workers telling Samoa News they were very happy working on Saturday, and they hope there is weekend work at the plant for the rest of December, to make up for the five weeks of production they lost.

MSC CERTIFICATION

StarKist announced last December it was financing the MSC certification of the US fleet based in American Samoa, as part of the company’s commitment to promote and source from sustainable fisheries - according to science-based standards.

StarKist worked with members of the locally based Tautai-O-Samoa Longline & Fishing Association, other independent U.S. vessel owners, the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, and NOAA’s Pacific Island Regional Office (PIRO) to successfully complete the fishery assessment.

In a statement last Thursday, StarKist confirmed the MSC fishery certification of the locally based longline fleet, saying the certification is a validation of the fleet’s sustainable fishing practices.

“StarKist has always had a strong commitment to sustainability and we were proud to  support the American Samoa-based...longline fleet during the rigorous MSC assessment process,” said Cary Gann, the director of seafood procurement for Starkist. “With MSC Fisheries Certification, these vessels and their owners can be recognized and rewarded for sustainable fishing.”

Responding to a request for comments, Tautai o Samoa said in a statement last Friday that members of the association are excited to receive official notification of the fisheries certification They expressed appreciation to StarKist for its “commitment in recognizing our sustainable fishing practices but mostly for its support of our fleet over the years.”

“Starkist has been providing the lifeline support for the dying local US-flagged longline fleet for the last few years,” the association noted. “This last U.S. albacore longline fleet would not exist today had it not been for the support provided by StarKist Inc., over the last two decades.”

Starkist continues to be the strongest supporter of the longline fleet operating in American Samoa, and “funding this costly MSC assessment reconfirms StarKist's commitment not only to suppliers with sustainable fishing practices but also to the local US-flagged longline fleet which are mostly owned and operated by native American Samoans.”

Both StarKist and Tautai o Samoa expressed appreciation to the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Council — which supported and pushed the MSC certification process.

According to StarKist, the company has already introduced new tuna products with the MSC eco-label into the U.S. market under the Blue Harbor Fish Co. brand, but there is limited fish supply. StarKist hopes its investment in the local fleet will help StarKist gain an advantage in a growing market.

Gann said StarKist hopes this certification can ultimately help revitalize and perhaps even grow the local longline fleet, which is “an important source of supply” for the StarKist Samoa cannery.

The company is encouraging other tuna fisheries to work towards MSC certification so there is adequate supply to support the small but growing market for MSC-certified seafood products in the U.S.

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