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Council report: StarKist supports local longliners by paying for MSC certification

StarKist Co., sees the value of working together with its partners in American Samoa and this includes the US flag longline fleet, which is currently undergoing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification assessment, says StarKist Samoa official Taotasi Archie Soliai during the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council meeting.

Taotasi made the statement following a presentation on the MSC assessment during the three-day Council meeting from Mar. 21-23 in Honolulu where it was revealed that the initial assessment costs around $85,000 and about  $15,000 for certification renewal. Taotasi is one of the three American Samoa members on the Council.

StarKist announced last December that it was investing in the American Samoa based longline fleet by funding the certification process, but didn’t hint on how much the company will have to pay for the certification process.

During the Council meeting, Council staff gave a presentation on the MSC certification, which is being carried out by Great Britain based ME Certification Ltd., for 14 longliners.  Additionally, StarKist is paying for the certification process.

“StarKist sees the value in working together with its partners and one of which is the longline fleet,” Taotasi told the meeting, which officially ended Thursday. He also says that the MSC certification “is a very lengthy process but we’re hopeful... it will be finalized before the end of this year.”

Christinna Lutu-Sanchez of Longline Service Inc., and the other American Samoa member on the Council, told the meeting that the only thing that the longline fleet knew about the certification process is the promise of much more money in the future.

“But this Council has been pioneers in making sure that we have regulations that not only serve the purpose of developing our fisheries but also to make sure that our fisheries is sustainable,” she said. “So this review, we’re very comfortable going through it and they are impressed with what we have to live with right now and we are very comfortable with what’s going on.”

Lutu-Sanchez thanked StarKist “for fronting the money that we don’t have to pay” for the assessment.

Taotasi added that the American Samoa longliners would be the first fishery under Council management going trough the MSC certification. “I think this is a worthy effort and everybody should be commended, particularly on the local front,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity for the industry itself for these fisheries to ensure that it’s more sustainable and more responsible practices and those practices continue into the future,” he said. 

Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Regional Office said, “As a matter of policy, NMFS does not support any single certification body. There are a number of certifying bodies out there.”

“With that said, we do have to be careful what resources are used to support an effort like this, even with its benefit,” Tosatto cautioned the Council.

“We have to make sure, we’re careful not to be perceived as supporting any single certifying body” especially when it comes to federal resources such as grant money that the Council gets, Tosatto, who is the NMFS member on the Council, reminded the meeting.

Lutu-Sanchez told Samoa News last December that the association had asked the Council for financial assistance to get the MSC 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.”

Currently, there is around a $100 a ton premium on MSC certified cannery-grade albacore in comparison to non-MSC certified albacore. For the American Samoa longline fishery, which has struggled financially in recent years due to low catch rates and high operating costs, any increase in ex-vessel fish prices is critically important, the report points out, according to the Council staff report.

Furthermore, the American Samoa longline fishery is the first fishery under Council management that will undergo MSC certification evaluation. And the certification assessment process is expected to take around 8-10 months for completion.