Losing Money, American Samoa Fishing Fleet Up For Sale

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Nearly 20 longliners attempt to sell due to business difficulties

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 3, 2014) – "For Sale" signs were posted yesterday morning on many local longliners anchored at the main dock at the port of Pago Pago, as boat owners moved to sell their vessels due to, among other things, the high costs of operation, making the business a losing proposition.

A list provided by the Tautai o Samoa Fishing and Longline Association shows close to 20 vessels up for sale. The sale was first announced late last month by boat owners.

"Aside from an increase in operating costs [and] a steady decrease in fish prices, the continuous low catch rates have made it no longer feasible to continue operating these fishing boats unless conditions improve," boat owners said in a statement two weeks ago, when they first announced the move to put their boats up for sale.

They were also concerned with the lack of dock space at the main dock and then being double charged for using the marina dock.

Further, the price of albacore has dropped by almost $1,000 per metric ton with the increase in the South Pacific region of Chinese fishing boats which are subsidized by their government. (See Samoa News edition of Dec.18 for more details)

ASG, which recently established a committee to identify needs for the longline fishing fleet with a report to be submitted soon to the governor, informed Samoa News, through the Governor’s Office, that the price of fish is something beyond the government’s control.

However, boat owners have maintained that the government has continued to ignore their blight, and a recent decision by ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ Pili seems to point to this.

Boat owners said they have been asking the government for some ten years to waive the excise tax on fish caught in American Samoa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and a recent Attorney General's legal opinion agreed — saying fish caught by local longliners in the territory’s EEZ is not subject to excise tax per local and federal law.

However, the ASG Treasurer told Samoa News two weeks ago he will continue to levy an excise tax on fish caught in American Samoa’s EEZ, because Customs can’t determined for sure if the fish was caught there. He said discussions continue.

Local businessman James Mahoney, in a Letter to the Editor, suggested the boat owners take the matter to court to enjoin ASG from any further collection of the excise tax on the local fleet and "file a suit against ASG to recover previous unlawfully collected excise taxes to the extent possible." (See Samoa News edition on Dec. 30 for more details of Mahoney’s letter.

In comments posted on Samoa News online regarding Mahoney’s suggestion, Carlos Sanchez, President of Longline Services, Inc., owner of six local longliners, agreed.

"We will take this case to court if need be. Four local lawyers have offered to help and take this to court for free if necessary," Sanchez said. "Imagine how bad this would make the Treasurer look in court when the people that have to defend him — which is the AG’s office — tell the judge that their opinion is based on local laws, that we should not pay this."

The following is the list of U.S. boats in American Samoa now up "For Sale": FV Tifaimoana, FV Samoan Boy, FV Taimane, FV Southern Horizon, FV Gloria Park, FV Isabella T, FV Survivor, FV Rival, FV Jihyun, FV Princess Karlinna II, FV Mee Jin Park, FV Pacific Horizon, FV Inja, FV America, FV Princess Yasminna, FV Flora, FV Auro, FV Chico.

Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley and reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.

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