StarKist Co. investing in US flagged long line fleet based in Am Samoa

Tautai O Samoa Longline & Fishing Association expresses its appreciation to StarKist
fili@samoanews.com

StarKist Co. is investing in the US flagged longline fleet based in American Samoa so that the fishing fleet, also a supply source for the company’s StarKist Samoa cannery, can achieve Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

Tautai O Samoa Longline & Fishing Association has expressed appreciation to StarKist for their support for the locally based longline fleet, which has been faced with financial difficulties over the past years.

“With MSC Fisheries Certification, these vessels and their owners can finally be recognized and rewarded for their sustainable fishing practices,” StarKist Co. director of procurement, Cary Gann said in a news release that announced the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company’s support of a sustainability-focused fishery assessment for the independently-owned U.S. flagged longline tuna fleet based in American Samoa.

It says that StarKist is working with members of the locally based Tautai-O-Samoa Longline & Fishing Association and the other independent U.S. vessel owners to successfully complete the fishery assessment and achieve the prestigious MSC Fisheries Certification based on the fleet’s sustainable fishing practices.

The fisheries assessment, which includes a series of questionnaires, in-person interviews, site visits and peer-reviews, started this month and will run until August 2017, said StarKist, which is covering the entire cost of the assessment on behalf of the local fishermen who would otherwise find it nearly impossible to finance the certification process. The company didn’t reveal the total cost of the assessment.

Gann said the company has always had a strong commitment to sustainability and this was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that commitment in a very direct way. “We are putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

“And at the same time, StarKist can support our local Pago-based U.S. fishing fleet which has been struggling financially in recent years,” he said and noted that as with many of the U.S. fisheries, these vessels fishing in the U.S. EEZ of American Samoa are operating under some of the strictest fisheries management regulations in the world.

“For many years, this has placed them at a major disadvantage to foreign flagged fishing fleets, and the result has been a steady decline in the number of U.S. vessels operating out of American Samoa,” he said.

StarKist points out that it has been struggling to maintain an economically viable operation in American Samoa due to a growing range of issues, including a reliable supply of quality fish sufficient enough to keep the plant in operation.

Despite the challenges, StarKist says it continues to make investments to keep the Pago Pago plant and supply chain competitive on a global basis. Those investments include helping the local fishermen in their efforts to improve sustainability ratings that are increasingly on the minds of the American consumer.

Gann said that its StarKist’s hope that this certification, if achieved, “can ultimately help to revitalize and perhaps even grow the local long line fleet, which is an important source of supply for the StarKist Samoa cannery.”

The company is also encouraging other 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. Currently, most of the MSC certified tuna ends up in the European Union market.

According to StarKist, the company has already introduced new tuna products with the MSC blue logo into the U.S. market under both the StarKist and Blue Harbor Fish Co. brands, but there is very limited supply. “Because of this limited supply, StarKist hopes its investment in the local fleet will help them to gain an advantage in a growing market,” the company said.

StarKist Samoa is currently closed for the annual end of the year shutdown, but instead of the usual two weeks, it’s for three weeks — with production to resume Jan. 9, 2017. (See Samoa News edition Dec. 16th for details)

TAUTAI ASSOCIATION

On behalf of Tautai association, the group’s president Christinna Lutu-Sanchez said, “we are grateful for the opportunity to obtain MSC certification for our U.S. longline fleet. We thank Starkist and Mr. Gann for making this independent assessment possible for the fleet.”

In a statement, responding to a request for comments, Lutu-Sanchez said this year, the U.S. fishery is “inherently sustainable” due to the stringent U.S. regulations and policies governing the U.S. fisheries management process; “and we are certain that the U.S. standards that we maintain will be more than satisfactory to meet all of the requirements to obtain MSC certification.”

“It is important that we maintain a sustainable fishery, and this certification validates our efforts,” she said.

In understanding certification process, she said the association looked at how Tri Marine International was able to obtain certification for its foreign long line fleet as well as its U.S. purse seine fleet.

Additionally, Tautai received “extensive assistance” from the Western Pacific Region Fishery Management Council in “helping us understand this process and our options.”

“We asked the Council for financial assistance to get this assessment done as we could not afford it, however Starkist came along and offered to help us by paying for this assessment in their continued support of our fleet,” she said.

“In these very grim financial times and lack of local support that our longline fleet continues to face, it is truly an honor to be reassured by those that understand the fishing business of why it is important to keep fighting for our existence — the last U.S. longline albacore fleet remaining,” she points out.

“We are sincerely grateful for the Council for its support and guidance, the support we have by both [canneries] but most especially Starkist for making this review possible for us to get MSC certified,” she said adding, “We extend our warmest holiday greetings to all and a blessed 2017.”

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