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StarKist and Longline Service tell fishery management of their challenges

Although no specific details were released, StarKist Samoa official Taotasi Archie Soliai told a fishery management meeting in Honolulu that negotiations are ongoing with the government for land to build the cannery’s cold storage facility in Satala and that negotiations are expected to continue again early this week.

Early this year, StarKist Co. officials from headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were on island to meet with ASG officials. Negotiations, which included Taotasi, for land space at the shipyard didn’t reach an agreement, but are continuing.

Taotasi along with Christinna Lutu-Sanchez of Longline Service Inc. presented a briefing on the territory’s canneries and fishing industry, last Thursday, during day-three of the final day of the 169th Meeting of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu. Taotasi and Lutu-Sanchez along with Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources are American Samoa’s members on the Council.

For StarKist Samoa, “business is continuing although the challenges have basically not changed,” Taotasi said, and noted that in 2016, the cannery had four weeks of unplanned closures “most of which are attributed to supply and not being able to have supplies.”

“We’re looking forward to 2017, being better, but again the challenges continue and remain,” he said, adding that one of those challenges is the need for additional storage space.

“Although I’m not privy to discuss the negotiations with local government with respect to negotiation on that space, I am happy to say that the negotiations are continuing and look forward to continuing” hopefully as early as this week, he said.

Taotasi called Council members attention to the U.S Government Accountability Office report issued last December to the U.S Congress dealing with minimum wage in American Samoa. (That report gave an extensive review on the canneries, which have been the background of the territory’s economy for many years.)

He said the GAO report states in part that “while American Samoa may show some signs of economic stabilization in comparison to previous time periods, they do note that the overall economy continues to rest upon a highly unstable foundation.”

The StarKist official said some factors “really affecting the industry” in the territory are minimum wage; foreign governments subsidizing their industries — such as their fishing boats in the Eastern Hemisphere; uncertainties around federal policies — another challenge that continues to threaten the industry; as well as variations on raw material and costs.”

On the fishing industry, Lutu-Sanchez said, the longline and purse seiner that operate out of the territory are also facing its own challenges, including closure last December of the second cannery plant, Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. as well as the loss of fishing grounds.

With the closure of STP, laying off some 700 workers, “that’s less income to spend by consumers on island,” she said, adding that with the loss of access to traditional fishing grounds in the region and even the loss of STP, some of the U.S flagged purse seiner vessels based in American Samoa are now delivering their catch elsewhere.

“And that is lost economic benefit to our island because — they [purse seiners] don’t buy fuel, they don’t buy their supplies — so that’s less income, less new money coming in to the island,” she said.

During testimony two weeks ago before a U.S House subcommittee hearing, American Tunaboat Association executive director Brian Hallman told congressional members that the majority of ATA’s 40 purse seiners are based in American Samoa. Additionally, the fleet contributed between $50 million and $60 million to the local economy — through the purchase of fuel, oil, deck supplies/other local supplies, maintenance/ repairs, hotels, restaurants, staff payroll, etc. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 17 for details.)

Aside from the purse seine fleet, Lutu-Sanchez told the Council meeting that American Samoa also has the longliners, a U.S fishery, which is faced with many challenges, including access to fishing grounds. She also noted the latest setback on fishing grounds, when the federal court last week invalidated the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) 2016 rule reducing the large vessel protected area from 50 to 12 miles. The NMFS action was to help the longline fleet.

And even though the Council and NMFS have “helped to try to give some relief to the longliners, the American Samoa Longline Fishery report presented at the Council meeting shows that the longline fleet continues to “diminish, down to 17 longlines operating in 2016 with much less catch. We don’t want this U.S fishery to disappear,” she said.

The fishing season for the longliners has just started, she said and noted that from December to March, there is not much happening to the fleet. And the court’s decision on the 2016 LVPA rule “is going to be a shocker because you cannot have access to those areas,” she said.

“Access is key, it’s really important for the [cannery] plant to have supply of fish, and our U.S fleet [based in the territory] is the sole source of US albacore to StarKist,” the Longline Service official said, adding that another challenge faced by the longliner fisheries is a lack of docking space at the main harbor.

Lutu-Sanchez said that every time a container vessel or cruise ship is in port, longline vessels are relocated else where, including to the Malaloa Marina dock, which is “not built to accommodate longliners.”

She says it’s really important to continue to pursue ASG to build a longline dock in Pago Pago for the longline fleet and “we are again thankful to the Council” for help in building a longline dock. (Based on information released at the meeting, the Council has provided over $100,000 to ASG, through the Port Administration to help build a longline dock.)

“Any other challenges faced by the longline fleet are minor compared to these two major issues — access to fishing grounds and available space at the [main] dock,” Lutu-Sanchez said.