Bumble Bee Tuna May Hurt Am. Samoa Canneries, Help Fishermen

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 2, 2014) – Competing for "raw materials" is the "primary impact" that Tri Marine International says it will face with Bumble Bee Foods when the San Diego-based company opens loining operations in Samoa later this year,
however, fishermen should be pleased.

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has announced Bumble Bee’s plans to operate a fish loining plant and fresh fish operation at Matautu wharf in the Apia town area. Tuilaepa says the company is expected to provide some 1,000 new jobs for his country.

Since the announcement many local residents and some businesses have wondered if Bumble Bee’s plans will have any impact on Tri Marine and StarKist Samoa operations. Michelle Faist, the StarKist Co., corporate spokesperson didn’t immediately reply to Samoa News
questions and a request for comments.

Tri Marine vice president of production Dan Sullivan, responding to Samoa News, said Bumble Bee’s "possible plant in Samoa will not change Tri Marine’s plans to complete construction and begin operations at the cannery in Atu’u, nor will it change our plans to grow
the fresh and frozen processing facility already operating."

"An additional plant located in Samoa will compete for fish supply with both StarKist and Samoa Tuna Processors, potentially increasing the costs to the facilities in American Samoa impacting our competitive position in the world market," he said. Tri Marine’s local
tuna cannery is Samoa Tuna Processors (STP) Inc.

Samoa News asked if Samoa's low wages would affect Tri Marine’s efforts to recruit workers from Samoa to work at the cannery plant. "We believe there will be sufficient workers from both American Samoa and Samoa to staff the STP cannery even if the plant in Apia is
built," was Sullivan’s response.

He also emphasized that the "primary impact" from Bumble Bee when it opens, "will be in the competition for raw material. To the extent that results in higher prices for the raw fish, that will impact on the competitiveness of the product from the Samoas in the
world markets."

Sullivan pointed out that Tri Marine is making a very large investment in the facilities and infrastructure at the STP processing plant in American Samoa and thereby has made a solid commitment.

"We have no concerns about competing with anyone but believe it should be on a ‘level playing field’. If grants, subsidies or aid are used to build a competing plant, the American Samoa tuna industry will be at a disadvantage," he said, but didn’t elaborate.

Industry officials speculated to Samoa News that Bumble Bee "may be taking advantage" of the financial support being given by China to Samoa and won’t be surprised if the Bumble Bee plant is built with Chinese materials and equipment by Chinese contractors and
workers for the purpose of processing fish caught by Chinese fishing boats.

The industry officials told Samoa News early this week that China is providing a tremendous amount of financial aid to the Samoa government in exchange for influence and fishing permits for their subsidized fishing boats.

"These Chinese flagged fishing boats compete with American Samoa boats," the officials said. "Likewise, the Bumble Bee plant will compete with the processing plants in American Samoa — plants built with private, not government money."

"Essentially, Bumble Bee would be using Chinese money to compete with StarKist and Tri Marine. There is no way that Bumble Bee would offer tuna loins made in Samoa to the canneries in American Samoa," the industry sources say.

Meanwhile, Sullivan said fishermen, will of course — be pleased to have — more plants competing to buy their catch.

"And fishing boat owners will also be pleased to be able to unload in Apia instead of American Samoa as they will not have to face the US Coast Guard which has a well-known reputation for diligently and properly enforcing regulations, especially those relating to
safety and pollution according to US laws," he said.

Samoa News also asked for comments on the rumor — which started last week and has spread quickly in the community — that Tri Marine is buying Bumble Bee, so that fish will be cleaned in Apia where labor costs are much lower and shipped to the territory for canning
and packing for the U.S. market, thereby qualifying for federal tax breaks and benefits.

Sullivan said, "the rumor is just that — rumor" adding that there have been reports in the national media that the owners of Bumble Bee were considering the sale of the company, but all are unconfirmed reports.

"If the Bumble Bee loin plant is built in Samoa, those loins will be used for Bumble Bee’s needs in their canning plant in Santa Fe Springs, California. They will not be canned in American Samoa," he said.

Samoa News was also told by an owner of several longliners in the territory that fishing in Samoa waters was another plus being offered to them, as long as they sold the fish in Apia’s cannery. However, Samoa News was unable to confirm this by press time.

The Samoa News
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