StarKist says to stay competitive they must follow market trend

Senior Manager of Seafood Procurement for Star Kist Co., Mr. Justin Yu has responded to a letter from the Tautai o Samoa Longline and Fishing Association who, earlier this month, wrote to Yu informing him that “it has become financially unfeasible to continue operations at this time, considering the continuous decline in albacore prices, the current low catch rate, the increasing cost of fuel, bait, and other operating costs.”


The local longline fleet owners and operators residing in American Samoa also voiced the same concerns to Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga in a separate letter.


In response, Yu explained that StarKist has been doing its best to secure the best prices as compared to other markets. He told the local boat owners that StarKist is fully aware of the difficulties with the current poor catch numbers in the off-season and the low prices on fish, which have resulted in the local fishing vessels being tied up. He noted this is not a new situation — “as done before”.


The local fishing fleet says that while they understand StarKist’s situation with regards to the current global market situation, they are left with no other alternative but to hold vessels currently in port as well as other vessels at sea, once their current trip is completed, until the albacore price rises to the point where the boats can be profitable again.


The price of albacore has dropped by almost $1,000 per metric ton and considering all other factors involved, it is impossible to make a profit, let alone break even, according to the fleet owners.


The Association thanked Yu for his efforts with the price increases for yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack, but added that "this is far from sufficient to cover operation costs." Yu referred to their February Price Announcement and said StarKist is faced with difficulties as far as securing their competitiveness due to the continuous down-trend of fish prices and high inventory numbers.


“We understand that this is natural, considering market movement following the principle of supply and demand; however, for securing competitiveness in this business, we have to follow the market trend,” Yu wrote to the Association.


Yu is optimistic that the situation will improve for the local longliners and fishing fleet, as well as StarKist, saying that the two have gone through valuable experiences and have overcome these kinds of difficult situations and “we can overcome again.”


In their letter to Yu last month, the Association requested a review and further reconsideration on fish prices, saying they will continue to seek StartKist's position on a separate price classification for fish caught by US- flagged vessels required for US military and other US federally funded programs.


In response, Yu explained that considering the demand quantity, only a minimal amount is required for the US military and other U.S federally funded programs; therefore, “it is difficult to do a separate pricing. We hope you understand our position on this issue.”


In their letter to Governor Lolo last month, owners of the local fishing fleet asked the governor to consider reviewing the arrangements and costs that are currently imposed on vessels ported here in American Samoa, specifically the longliners that are part of the American Samoa fleet and owned by American Samoans or people who reside in American Samoa.


Local fishing boat owner and Association member Carlos Sanchez says he and members of the Association have been trying, with no success, to speak with certain department directors but they have yet to be given that opportunity.


"Right now, the American Samoa longline fleet is the biggest endangered species, but no one has any interest in the survival of this US fleet, only to regulate it," Sanchez said. According to the Association, the American Samoa longliners are like children without a home. 


In addition to low fish prices, other issues raised by the Association to the governor include port charges, vessel clearance requirements, and representation on the Western Pacific Fishery Region Management Council. (See full story in Wednesday’s edition of the Samoa News)


The council meeting this year in March will be held here in American Samoa, and according to the Association, they will be presenting a list of issues to the council for consideration.

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