StarKist Co. addresses expansion of Pac Remote Islands Marine Natl Monument
US-based StarKist Co. is willing to work with the Trump Administration to find more effective ways to protect the ocean and US waters, but it must be done in a way “that is science based and does not unfairly hurt the American Samoan economy and our US fishermen,” according to the company’s Seafood Procurement director, Cary Gann in a July 3rd letter.
Gann’s letter, addressed to US Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, was in response to the federal agency’s request for public comments following President Trump’s executive order earlier this year in May, calling for a review of land and marine monument designations by former US presidents, going back to 1996. Although the comment period ended July 10th, several letters directed to Zinke have just been released on the federal portal <www.regulations.gov>
Among the monuments under review is the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which was expanded by President Obama in 2014 and is the subject of the StarKist comment-letter.
Gann points out that since since 1963, StarKist has proudly and sustainably prepared and packaged products that are made in America, and the decision to expand PRIMNM “puts our business model in jeopardy.”
He continued, “The expansion is a serious threat to our operations in the territory as the U.S. purse seine fleet, our largest supplier of light meat tuna for American Samoa, has lost access to these traditional and critically important fishing areas.”
Prior to the expansion, PRIMNM already protected coral reefs and other vulnerable habitats by prohibiting fishing within 50 miles off shore, he said.
With 15% of the area already closed to commercial fishing, extensive regulations and conservation measures in place, and no contact with corals or the ocean bottom by the purse seine fisheries operating in the area, these pristine waters and island ecosystems have been unaffected for years, said the StarKist executive.
“While no scientific evidence exists in support of the expansion as an effective means to further protect ocean species or habitats, the U.S. fisheries and supporting businesses are negatively impacted,” he added.
Further, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) confirms that tuna, as a highly migratory species, is not likely to be effectively managed by marine protected areas, marine parks, or marine monuments.
Gann informed Zinke that tuna species travel thousands of miles through the high seas and the EEZs of many nations; so the only way to effectively manage tuna fisheries is under international agreements.
Additionally, existing robust tuna conservation measures, international agreements, and even the status of the stocks are other elements that were completely ignored when this expansion was approved.
“The tuna industry is a globally competitive, largely commoditized business where profit and loss are determined by pennies,” Gann told Zinke. “American Samoa has historically been an attractive location to process tuna due to a reliable, steady supply of high quality whole tuna directly delivered from the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet operating in the Western Central Pacific fishing grounds.”
“This main advantage has been eroded by the expansion of the PRIMNM,” Gann said. “The expansion has jeopardized our fish supply, disrupted production, and added cost to our operation.”
“While StarKist understands the motivation behind the decision and shares in a commitment to protect our oceans, we feel that it is wrong to put American industry at risk given the lack of scientific evidence to justify the expansion.”
Gann concluded, “We are willing to work with the current administration to find more effective ways to protect the ocean and our U.S. waters, but we must do so in a way that is science based and does not unfairly hurt the American Samoan economy and our US fishermen.”
In his official five-page written address to the joint session of the Fono on Monday, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the reduction of fishing grounds due to federal policies to expand ocean monuments, sanctuaries, and closing the high seas fishing has affected the supply and cost of fish delivered to StarKist.
“These increased costs create a financial disadvantage and reduces our canneries’ ability to compete with low wage tuna producing countries,” said Lolo, adding that “American Samoa’s financial and economic future is directly tied to the financial health of StarKist and its continued existence in the Territory.”
“Our commitment to Starkist can be seen in the actions our government has taken to sustain its operation,” he said; however, it’s “quite obvious that what the Territory has done to support the sustainability of StarKist is just not enough because of the highly competitive nature of the fishing industry.”
As reported early this week by Samoa News, Tri Marine Group recommended that the federal government begin a rule making process to remove commercial fishing restriction for tuna in certain area of waters around PIRMNM. (See Samoa News July 12 edition for details.)