Tri-Marine official Hamby: “…there’s not enough tuna... for all markets”
An official with a U.S. based fishing and tuna processing company believes American Samoa should partner with Pacific island countries in tuna fishing agreements due to the territory’s very limited Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Tri Marine International official Joe Hamby also called for better management of tuna resources in the region as tuna has become scarce while there is a high demand for it. Hamby made the statements during his speech at last Friday’s dedication of Tri Marine’s cold storage facility at Samoa Tuna Processor plant in Atu’u.
“We have decided to invest in American Samoa. This is a vital facility for us; without tuna our company doesn’t exist. And I think without tuna, American Samoa’s economy will not do well,” he said, adding that the company has confidence in American Samoa.
He also said Tri Marine's presence is proof that there will be two tuna cannery plants in the territory.
Hamby shared with the audience what he calls a “very important” issue, which is that “tuna is a renewable resource but it's scarce”. From 2009 to 2011, the tuna catch in the Western and Central Pacific, declined by over 10 percent— it declined by more than 280,000 tons, he noted.
He revealed that Tri Marine and StarKist combined will need 160,000 tons of tuna a year for their operations.
“While the tuna supply is declining, the demand for it is increasing, for obvious reasons - population growth, people wanting more protein in their diets,” he said. “We see supply declining and demand increasing and there’s not enough tuna...for all markets.”
He said ‘resource owners’, who are American Samoa’s neighboring Pacific island countries, “have recognized that tuna is a scarce renewable resource and it’s vital to their economies, just as it's vital to American Samoa.”
“They are now leveraging the fact that they have the tuna resources by insisting that the tuna be transshipped in their zones or possibly even processed in their zones. We see this happening already,” he said and cited for example, Tri Marine’s operations in the Solomon Islands, where the company has a major tuna plant and a fishing fleet employing over 2,000 people.
He said the Solomon Islands government has decided to condition their licenses on the fact that the boats have to unload in the Solomons and the fish are to be processed there, and noted that other countries with the same opportunities are doing the same.
“This trend is going to continue— fish caught in the islands, should be processed in the islands. That’s what Tri Marine believes. That’s why we’re here,” he noted.
AMERICAN SAMOA EEZ
He says American Samoa’s EEZ “is quite small” and tuna tonnage caught in territorial waters, “is very limited”, less than 10,000 tons per year, or about 0.2% of the tuna catch in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
“But we believe there is a way to connect the islands around American Samoa - your neighbors - and bring the tuna to the territory,” the official said. He pointed out that some of these countries, or most of them, don’t have the infrastructure available in the territory such as skilled workers, canning and freezer facilities, water supply and energy which are needed for the tuna industry.
“The key is to partner with those neighbors,” he told the audience. “If we can connect the [neighboring islands around American Samoa and the rich resources, to here, then we do one thing that is very important—preserve the tuna industry in American Samoa and improve the management of the tuna resources.”
He pointed out that consumers are looking for tuna that is caught and processed in the South Pacific and that tuna product is then brought directly to them. For American Samoa that consumer is the U.S. market.
Hamby made it a point to inform the audience that processing tuna in the territory is more expensive than processing elsewhere and therefore “we need that duty protection” for exports to the U.S.
RISKS AND OTHER ISSUES
“Looking forward we see risks,” he said and noted that he would not talk about the well known risks such as minimum wage, fish supply, energy, or regulations. “We’ll do our best to manage these risks,” he said.
There are other risks - such as tuna management - which is “critically important to this facility, to this country, to the tuna industry. The tuna must be well managed. And we and the leaders of this [territory] and in the region should be very strongly involved in advocating improved management,” he said.
He said this can be done either thru Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, or Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or the Te Vaka Moana, or simply new relationships between countries.
He went on to say that the local longliners, and the local purse seiner fleet need access to regional fishing grounds, because there is not enough tuna in the waters of American Samoa to support them. “So all of us have to work collectively to make sure that happens,” he said.
And as an industry, the tuna industry looks to government leadership to make good policy because industries and companies don’t make policies, the government does, he said. “We encourage good policy,” he added.
Additionally, “we need to encourage a level playing field, especially for the local longliners, who are disadvantaged. They are unsubsidized, they have to compete with a [foreign] subsidized fleet.”
“And if something doesn’t happen soon, we’re going to lose local longliners because they simply cannot compete. We need the local fleet. It’s the lifeline of this facility,” he said.
“And finally, we need God’s help. And so I ask that we all pray, remember these things in our prayers. We ask God to bless this facility, this business, our employees, the fish. And God bless all of you,” he concluded.