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StarKist workforce makes their sentiments known to Sec. Zinke

Cannery workers hold up sign reading "We need fish, restore access to fishing grounds, pls!"
“No Fishing Ground = No Fish = No Jobs”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Jobs matter,” declared US Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke during brief remarks last week Thursday to a cheering crowd of more than 600 workers and management staff of StarKist Samoa and Talofa System Inc. can plant — both companies owned by South Korean based Dongwon industries.

Workers from both companies were out in full force covering both sides of the road to await Zinke’s arrival with a top priority on their minds, keeping jobs and re-opening the ocean monuments to allow more fishing grounds.

That message was very clear through placards carried by several employees. “No Fishing Ground = No Fish = No Jobs”, declared one placard, while another screamed out, “WE NEED FISH! PLEASE SAVE OUR JOBS… ReOpen THE OCEAN MONUMENTS!”, or “Secretary Zinke, We need fish! Restore access to fishing grounds!” and “No Fishing Grounds, No Fishing, No Jobs”.

As previously reported by Samoa News, StarKist Samoa had to shut down for several weeks over the past two years due to the shortage of fish supplies, as the cannery was faced with a decline in the number of fishing vessels calling into the territory, due to stringent fishing regulations.

There were also placards, that just said “Welcome to StarKist Samoa”. Zinke was asked by some cannery workers for a selfie with him and he was happy to do so. Those selfies were then quickly posted and circulated on social media.

Zinke, the third US Secretary of Interior to visit the territory since 1997, was in Pago Pago for a 5-hour stop after leading the US government delegation attending the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru, followed by visits to Papua New Guinea, Guam and the Northern Mariana Island and the last stop in Pago Pago.

During his ground tour of Tutuila, Zinke’s motorcade, which included Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, along with local and federal officials stopped at the StarKist plant, where the company’s general manager, Sangdong Kwon, along with cannery official Taotasi Archie Soliai welcomed Zinke, as workers — and others standing on the hill side above Atu’u across from the plant — cheered.

In his remarks, Taotasi thanked Zinke for visiting American Samoa, which he says is a small territory and “we have a very few things that we are proud of.” 

For example, “we are very proud, that StarKist Samoa is here in the territory. We are proud it’s the biggest cannery in the world, it’s the number one tuna cannery in the US,” he said.

“We are very thankful that you took the time out of your busy schedule to come visit us. StarKist Samoa plays a vital role to the [local] economy,” he told Zinke, adding that, I think about 90% of the export containers comes out of this [Starkist] facility. Everything that is made in this plant goes to the U.S.”

Additionally, StarKist Samoa, which employs about 2,400 workers, is the “only company that satisfies Buy America requirements for [federal] government contracts” pertaining to canned tuna, under the US Department of Agriculture and the US military.

“That’s something that we’re proud of,” he said, and he told Zinke that StarKist is also “thankful for the position that you’ve taken on ocean monuments [as] fishing access is vitally important to StarKist Samoa and to American Samoa.”

StarKist also stands in support of Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Congresswoman Aumua Amata on this issue and that Zinke is behind the request “to reopen those [ocean] monuments for access to our fishing fleet,” he further pointed out.

Other talking points gathered by StarKist for Zinke’s delegation and later shared with Samoa News, is that more than 70% of the volume of all American Samoa exports is a StarKist product. Furthermore, StarKist operations support a range of associated companies, directly contributing to increased employment and economic activity in: fishing, fueling, stevedoring/trucking, canning, shipping and waste disposal.

Before giving Zinke a chance to speak to the cannery crowd, Taotasi called for three Samoan cheers for the Interior Secretary and the employees responded loudly.

In his remarks, Zinke acknowledged the recommendation for reducing the ocean monument, which he says is an issue that “should reflect the values of the people. And part of the issue is [that] Washington hasn’t listened.”

“And our government is for the people and by the people. And our government should support the people,” he said to cheers from the crowd.

“The Pacific matters,” said Zinke, noting that his delegation — which includes officials from the U.S Department of State, the White House and US Army Lt. General Bryan Fenton, the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command — had attended the Pacific Islands Forum. “And the voice of American Samoa matters.” This also resulted in another round of applause from the crowd.

“Jobs matter,” he said, noting that it’s great being in the territory. “We talk a lot of times [about the] Pacific, in terms of military and national security, but it doesn’t matter unless we have jobs. It doesn’t matter unless we have prosperity.”

After Zinke’s remarks, Taotasi led the crowd in singing a well known Samoan song, which expresses thank you — “Ua fa’ malie mata e vaai, ua tasi lava oe... i lo’u nei fa’amoemoe.”

From StarKist the motorcade then headed to Su’igaula o le Atuvasa park for the ava ceremony where Zinke was bestowed the chiefly tile of “Fofoga-O-Samoa”. He is the second visiting Secretary of Interior to be bestowed a Samoan chiefly title.

The first one, was in the 2007, when then Secretary of Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, was bestowed the chiefly title of “Pulele’iite”.

In 1997, it was then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbit, who spent more than a day in the territory as part of the US Department of Interior’s dedication of the National Park of American Samoa. Babbit’s visit, and the park dedication made international news through The Associated Press.