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Starkist looking to increase canning production in American Samoa

Aerial view of Starkist canning plant in American Samoa
Depending on its federal EPA application being approved

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — StarKist Inc., is looking at relocating some of its production from California to American Samoa, creating up to 300 new jobs, according to a summary report by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga, following meetings last month in Washington D.C. with US Department of Interior officials, and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Oakland, California.

Lemanu led the ASG delegation to the meetings, and provided a brief summary report in a written Nov. 19th report to Gov. Lolo Matalagi Moliga, who had requested that ASG meet with DOI and FEMA to discuss several critical issues for American Samoa.

Among the issues of the DOI meeting was StarKist’s federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit application.

The permit is issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency for the StarKist Samoa plant.

Lolo had requested DOI’s support for the permit application because of the cannery’s importance to the local economy. In addition to many of the disincentives, which continue to impact StarKist’s competitive advantage, is the new minimum wage hike of 40-cents, which went into effect Sept. 30th this year, the report states.

The new wage hike, “further increased StarKist’s operating costs,” Lemanu wrote in the report, which revealed that "the decision by StarKist to relocate production to American Samoa is dependent on approval of the NPDES Permit with requested effluent discharge limits approved”.

It was explained to DOI that if the Permit “is not approved, not only will we lose 200- 300 new jobs, but existing jobs could be lost as well because production will have to be reduced,” the report said, adding that DOI was “sensitive” to this request and will do what it can to support the Permit Application.

Federally mandated minimum wage in American Samoa was further discussed with DOI, in which the governor requested to utilize the traditional method of determining the minimums under the purview of the US Department of Labor, using the Wage Industry Committee with members appointed by the US Secretary of Labor.

The Lolo Administration maintains that the “current method does not consider the economic capacity of the territory to absorb” automatic federally mandated wage hikes.

According to the report, the loss of federal incentives was discussed “because this avenue would help absorb the impact of federal wage hikes”.

The ASG delegation also requested the extension of the federal 30(A) Tax Credit.

Moreover, the delegation requested DOI for help on how American Samoa could capitalize on new federal incentive programs such as the Opportunity Zones and New Markets Tax Credits.

“DOI will work to link us with what is being done in Guam and [US] Virgin Islands to take advantage of these new federal programs,” the report pointed out. And DOI is willing to set up economic development forums to help American Samoa access these federal programs.

Interior Assistant Secretary of Insular and International Affairs, Douglas Domenech said that while American Samoa is asking to scale back the Ocean Monuments to avail more fishing grounds for the US fishing fleet, particularly those supporting StarKist to fish, the American Samoa Government had filed a federal lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the reduction of the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in territorial waters.

“NOAA is claiming that American Samoa is sending mixed messages and inconsistent in its efforts to help the canneries,” the report says.

DOI was informed that the legal challenge came after the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council issued a rule reducing the LVPA from 50 to 20 miles without consultation of the Territory of American Samoa, according to the report.

ASG has informed DOI that when the federal court ruled in favor of American Samoa, the governor instructed the American Samoa Fisheries Task Force to invite representatives from the large vessel fleet to become members of the task force to jointly develop policies to regulate fishing within the 50 miles protected zone.

It was explained that the governor’s intention was to allow large vessels to fish within the 50-mile protected zone if their catches were off-loaded at StarKist.

“The 50 miles protected zone provides the options for the people of American Samoa to sustain their lives in the event we lose StarKist,” the report states and noted that the federal court on the LVPA ruling “recognized the legitimacy of our Deeds of Cessions for the first time.”

Samoa News notes that the Large Vessel fleet referred to in the report, are the US flagged longliners, which fish in American Samoa and supply the canneries.

For the LPVA case, NOAA — which is among federal defendants in the lawsuit — appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is still pending.