Former Governor Offers Help To Am. Samoa Fishing Sector

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Togiola Tulafono acknowledges issues with foreign competition

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 30, 2013) – Former American Samoa Gov. Togiola T.A. Tulafono has come out to lend a helping hand to the current plight faced by the Tautai o Samoa Longline & Fishing Association, whose boat owners have moved to tie up their fleet and put their vessels up for sale, as they face hardship with a number of issues, and say not much government support is in sight.

In response to the longline fleet’s problems, which they say didn’t occur overnight and have been well known, Togiola wrote to Tautai o Samoa president Mrs. Rasela Feliciano offering his support and a helping hand. The former governor, who during his tenure has come into contact with wide range of people in the fishing and cannery industry, sought a meeting with association members.

"I understand only too well the dilemma you are facing today, and I want to offer my help to your association if I can," Togiola wrote in a Dec. 15 letter. "I am sure you are getting much attention from our government by now, but I observe with much concern the lack of appreciation from our people just how significant the longliner fishing boats are to our economy."

"The fisheries industry supports at least 80% of our economy and we should be paying attention to the effects of losing our fishing fleet and the domino effect of it. You are absolutely correct about the ambitious and aggressive expansion of the Peoples’ Republic of China’s (PRC) distant water fishing industry (DWF)," he pointed out.

(Boat owners have stated the Chinese fishing fleet, which gets subsidies from its government, has increased fishing in the region.)

"It’s not possible to compete with the billions of dollars pumped into the DWF by the Chinese government," he said. "But I believe we can make some headway into changing our national policies in Washington to help curb the Chinese enthusiasm, and giving us a fairly level playing field in this endeavor."

Togiola, who now has a private law firm called South Pacific Law Center, noted, "We need to join together to forge a program that our government can support to help us reverse the effects of this aggression."

In the meantime, besides the former governor, the association has also received written or verbal support from representatives of major U.S. tuna companies — StarKist, Tri Marine International, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, according to association member Christina Lutu-Sanchez, who along with her husband Carlos Sanchez, own six local longliner boats.

However, she said, "from this local government, absolutely nothing except what they've told the media of what they're supposedly doing," she told Samoa News over the weekend in a statement. "A good question is, how are they trying to help if they have not sat with us to see if their possible solutions would make a difference or not? Something is missing in this equation."

The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC) has told Samoa News that possible financial help for the local fishing fleet is available through a provision of the federal Magnuson-Steven Act, which calls for the governor of the affected state (or territory) to request financial support.

"This is the same federal disaster relief that we were promised after the 2009 tsunami," Lutu-Sanchez said. "To date, we have not seen one-penny or even technical assistance from the federal government. In contrast, after hurricane Sandy [in the U.S.], their fishing communities in the East coast received millions worth of assistance. We received ZERO."

Other issues

In response to Samoa News inquiries regarding the plight faced by the local longline fishing fleet, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said last week, "What we need to do is to come together to find mutual solutions to mitigate this formidable challenge. Pointing fingers will do nothing to address the problem."

Lutu-Sanchez questioned: "What does it mean to work together? We sent a letter in February to the Governor and followed up many times with phone calls but to no avail."

As to the ASG committee appointed to identify ways to help the longliner boat owners, she said, they have not been informed of this officially, of its membership or specific purpose.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the committee members are Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele, Port Administration director Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele; Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi Tofiga; the Governor’s Legal Counsel Steven Watson; and Territorial Energy Office acting director at the time, Timothy Jones Sr., who is also a boat owner.

Lutu-Sanchez said her husband had recommended having a Tauti o Samoa representative on such a committee to represent the organization in the discussions. She said Jones is not part of the association because his boat has a foreign flag and doesn't fish in American Samoa, and he doesn't have all of the same problems the local U.S. boats have.

"So we are not sure what is happening or who is working together as we are not included," she said, adding, "Iulogologo says not to point fingers. We have not. We have stated that we wrote to the Governor in February and we have issues such as not having a docking place, these are true facts."

Additionally, the boat owners have also stated that in finding out the DMWR director is responsible for fishing, "we requested a meeting without being granted" one and this is also a fact. She also made clear they are not blaming the government "for our losses" and "we are not pointing fingers, as this will not help our cause."

She further noted they have never asked for subsidies, which is something that would be asked of the federal government.

"As a matter of fact, in the past, we have requested a program through the Council (Western Pacific Fishery Management Council) to allow for soft loans for fishermen/ boat owners for specific fishing development projects or emergency purposes," Lutu-Sanchez said, adding they raised these same issues of concern with the Council in February and March of this year.

"Instead of being defensive about what the situation is, it would've been better to receive a more supportive response such as maybe, ‘sorry about the situation but we are here to help and support’," she said. "And [then] enter into meaningful discussion and realistic solutions that will help and not imaginary dreams that will never come true."

She declared, "We have not heard from anyone in this local government or the Council — they have not reached out to us — they've only responded to the news articles."

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