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Island Fisheries points to difficulties of fish supply from local fishermen

Island Fisheries Market fish counter
“Vessels are not equipped with ice machines” on board a major problem

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Island Fisheries Inc, is “optimistic that export of quality fresh fish from American Samoa” to targeted off island markets “can be sustainable, provide jobs and infuse new revenue into our local economy.”

This is according to the Island Fisheries, as part of its response to Samoa News questions following a meeting last week Wednesday, where the company’s president Peter Lamy, along with two Hawaiian Airlines cargo representatives met ASG officials, lead by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga. (See Samoa News edition July 12 for details).

Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele told Samoa News last week that the main issue of the meeting is that Island Fisheries isn’t getting sufficient fish from local fishermen to sustain its fish export businesses.

And this was confirmed last Friday by Island Fisheries in a response specific to Samoa News email questions to Lamy and copied to the company’s local manager, Dusty Snow.

Asked about some of the issues Island Fisheries is faced with getting fish supply from local fishermen, the company first pointed out that, most of the fishing boats in American Samoa are designed to freeze fish for local cannery.

“High quality fresh fish for export to markets in Hawai’i, Japan and California — the targeted markets — must be buried in flake ice to allow the fish to retain the highest levels of quality,” the company explained. “None, if not most, of the boats have a flake ice machine on board.”

“Our local Alia boats are small, and an ice machine on board would not be cost effective. Transporting flake ice out to sea in an Alia would be space prohibitive and the weight of ice would burn more fuel going out to fish,” it says.

ASG officials told Samoa News last Friday that “this issue” can be address through the “Alia tele” or the “super alia”. But Samoa News notes that the price of a super alia is in the thousands of dollars — based on ASG testimonies in the Senate — and not affordable to many local alia owners.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the US longline fleet based in American Samoa is supplying fish for Island Fisheries’ operation at the Fish Market at the Fagatogo Market Place, but not for their fish export business.

Asked as to why the local longliners are not providing fish for the export, the company said “because their vessels are not equipped with ice machines”.

As to how many pounds of fish needed to sustain each fresh fish export shipment, Island Fisheries responded, “We are prepared to export 5,000 pounds and up per week on Hawaiian Airlines and Pacific Air Cargo weekly flights.”

Asked if Island Fisheries is getting fish supply from the local alia fishermen, the company  said, “Island Fisheries is currently purchasing fresh fish from our local Alia’s. However, it is only for our local fish market store and not for export.

“This is due to our Alia’s not being equipped with the proper ice to maintain the high quality required by overseas fish buyers,” the company said. “Also, the tonnage is not enough to meet export demand. The need for basic training of fish handling is also imperative.”

Island Fisheries also said that, “Yellow Fin and Big Eye Tuna are the most popular for export. However, there is a huge potential for high quality bottom fish export too.”

According to Island Fisheries, “American Samoa is in a very good position to develop our fishery and make a good name for ourselves not only in mainland USA but at a global level.”

Island Fisheries first shipment of fresh fish export off island — which was supplied by a Honolulu-based vessel in port for federal regulatory requirements — was made last month.

“Our first export to California was a huge success, our fish quality, temperatures, and logistics were exactly where they needed to be,” Lamy told Samoa News. “When referencing local Alia fishermen and bottom fish in general, we all need to know that the business of fish export is only possible with the participation of long-line caught yellow fin and big eye tuna.”

“Having a consistent volume of tuna will then open the possibilities to export snappers and other popular deep-water fish that are plentiful in our waters. We are very optimistic that export of quality fresh fish from American Samoa can be sustainable, provide jobs and infuse new revenue into our local economy,” Lamy said.

Since Samoa News reported last Friday on the Wednesday meeting and the obstacles faced by Island Fisheries, some local residents are calling for the government to do all possible to ensure that this “excellent economic opportunity” moves forward.

There are also calls for the local alia fleet to do all possible to address Island Fisheries requirements for fish exports and urge the Commerce Department to “do your job” to help the local alia fleet through the federally funded programs, such as the State Small Business Credit Initiative — referred to locally as the American Samoa Venture Fund — to meet such requirements.