Part of success for United Fishing
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Two former workers of the closed Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. cannery are now working for United Fishing Agency Ltd. which last year looked at American Samoa’s labor force, especially cannery workers, to recruit for its Honolulu-based operation.
STP, owned by US based Tri Marine International, closed cannery operations in December 2016, putting some 800 workers out of jobs. Tri Marine says the future of STP is “uncertain”.
UNITED FISHING AGENCY
As Samoa News reported last October, the ASG Department of Human Resources was assisting United Fishing Agency with local applicants. The company’s assistant vice president and action manager, Michael K. Goto told Samoa News at the time that they were primarily looking for workers to fill positions in its vessel Unloading and Receiving sections of operation.
“These would involve the direct handling of fresh fish unloaded from docked longline vessels which is then received directly into our facility to be weighed, temperatured, tagged, and iced, prior to sale,” he said.
Goto said this week from Honolulu that two former STP workers, Tagaiivasa Tipa and Angelo Poutalie, are now working with United Fishing Agency and both “are very happy with their situation and have adapted nicely to working in Hawai’i.”
He explained that he applied for a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant, which was part of a "fisheries development" as a training module for former cannery workers.
“A majority of the funds is budgeted for their complementary airfare and housing for the duration of their one year contract. Only American Samoans are eligible at this time since this is a US government grant,” Goto told Samoa News via email from Honolulu Wednesday afternoon.
He explained that the one-year contract offered a $12 hourly rate and medical insurance (typical benefits for any full time worker), in addition to airfare and housing. “At the end of the one year term, they can elect to remain with the company, but must provide their own living accommodations thereafter,” he said.
Asked about plans to hire more workers from American Samoa, Goto said he “will continue to recruit American Samoan labor” with the help of ASG, specifically DHR and director Eseneiaso Liu, “as long as there are interested and available American Samoans willing to relocate.”
STP, owned by Tri Marine International, still maintains limited operations at the Atu’u plant.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Tri Marine chief operations officer, Joe Hamby said Goto had asked if STP could refer any of its former employees to work for United Fishing Agency in Honolulu.
“We were delighted to recommend some of our former staff. I’m very pleased to know that Tagaiivasa Tipa and Angelo Poutalie are working there now,” Hamby said yesterday.
During Wednesday’s meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu, Goto — one of the Hawaii members on the Council — shared an update on his company’s recruitment of former STP workers, and the hiring of Tipa and Poutalie.
Goto’s presentation also included photos of the two American Samoans at work.
American Samoa members on the Council, Taotasi Archie Soliai and Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director Va’amua Henry Sesepasara extended appreciation to Goto and his company for recruiting these two workers, with hope of more being hired from here.
Taotasi said United Fishing Agency recruiting former STP workers was discussed early last week. “And to see it come to fruition is really a testimony to the commitment and dedication of you and United Fishing Agency in helping provide some relief assistance, employment assistance to some of those people,” Taotasi informed Goto.
Taotasi noted that Poutalie is from his village of Nu’uuli and “it’s good to see that this is an opportunity for him and his family. So thank you [Goto] for making that effort.”
Although the STP cannery has been closed for more than a year, there is still a lot of local interest on whether or not it will re-open, to provide employment for the local workforce. While cannery operations are closed, Tri Marine does continue to have limited operations at the STP facility that Tri Marine invested some $70 million into renovating and expanding the former COS Samoa Packing plant.
Asked for a status update on STP, Hamby told Samoa News on Wednesday that the company continues to operate, unloading boats and using the cold storage. “All I can tell you is that the future of STP is uncertain,” he said.
The status of STP was also cited in the American Samoa Community Activities and Issues Report, submitted ahead of this week’s Council meeting, which closes today in Honolulu.
The report cites briefly a letter to the Council from Hamby, who stressed that locally-based tuna processors must find ways to offset the cost disadvantage it has in competing with other canneries in Asia that can pay more for raw materials than the plants in American Samoa.
Tri Marine also cited that the loss of fishing grounds of American Samoa based fishing vessels was a detriment to supplying the territory’s canneries and increased the risk of costly production interruptions.