Am. Samoa Governor Blames US Restrictions For Economic Decline

admin's picture

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Lolo deeply concerned about failure to protect tuna industry

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 23, 2015) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has expressed to US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, his "deep concerns" that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is not protecting American Samoa’s tuna fishery and that restrictions placed on traditional fishing grounds have resulted in a decrease in the number of purse seiners calling into the Port of Pago Pago.

As a result of NOAA fisheries not protecting the local tuna industry, the territory’s "tuna dependent economy is in decline," which is the direct result of the US National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) decision to close, for the rest of the year, US purse seiner fishing on high seas and the US EZZ, according to the governor in a recent letter to Pritzker.

Lolo’s concerns voiced with Pritzker, followed last month’s decision by NMFS to reject Tri Marine International’s petition for an emergency rule-making allowing US purse seiners that off load at least 50% of their catches at the local canneries to fish on high seas and US EEZ — the two ocean areas known as Effort Limit Area for Purse Seine (ELAPS).

Among the reasons cited by NMFS for denying Tri Marine’s petition is that the federal agency does not yet have sufficient information to determine whether the 2015 ELAPS limit is likely to jeopardize the ability of the American Samoa canneries to compete in world markets, or to determine how the loss of such competitiveness would affect American Samoa's overall economy.

"This seems to be unnecessary," Lolo said in his letter and pointed to a July 2015 report prepared by NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office, which concluded that the closure of high seas would "bring substantial adverse impacts to fishing operations in the purse seine sector."

Additionally, "it would also bring adverse impacts to business sectors with backward linkages to the procedures, such as businesses that supply the fishing vessels. This could also be true for business sectors with forward linkages to the producers, such as the canneries in Pago Pago."

Based on this report, Lolo says it’s clear that the NMFS knew that closing the high seas would have a substantial adverse impact on the territory.

[PIR editor’s note: The Samoa News reported that ‘Two US-based companies, which manage and operate US flagged fishing fleets have encouraged the federal government to develop ways to assist the entire US fishing fleet so that all vessels may continue to operate — and not just vessels operating in a certain area — referring to those vessels serving the American Samoa canneries.’]

"The truly disturbing fact remains that before closing the high seas, NMFS did not take the time to quantify how ‘substantial a closure would be for our economy’," the governor complained. "But now that we have asked for emergency relief, incredulously it is only now that NMFS wishes to be thorough and detailed in its research."

According to Lolo, the federal government and its agencies "have a fiduciary duty to protect American Samoa and our way of life." He suggested that less time is needed spent on researching how dependent "we are on tuna and more time must be spent on getting our fleet access to high seas."

"Failure of NMFS to act, is damaging the Territory’s economy," Lolo said, and provided Pritzker some information to "help illustrate our plight." For example, the Port Administration analysis shows that from June to October 2014 when the ELAPS was open, 76 purse seiners made calls to Pago Pago, but during the same period this year, when the ELAPS is closed, there were only 41.

The governor noted that every time a purse seiner calls into the territory, they spent $300,000 to $400,000 and this does not include the value of fish they unload to the canneries or to refrigerated carriers.

"Think of all the business we have already lost. This will impact the amount of fuel we bring into American Samoa," he explained and pointed out that smaller fuel purchase volumes means higher pricing. He also stressed that the purse seiners, some of them old time residents, are not coming back to Pago Pago because they have changed their fishing grounds. "This type of attrition will kill our economy," he said.

The governor also says that NMFS’ action has increased the relative cost of tuna in the territory. For example, with fewer purse seiners entering Pago Pago, the canneries have lost a potential supply of raw material and the pricing of raw material is a direct result of supply and demand.

"The lower the amount of the supplies, i.e., the amount of fish offered to the canneries, the higher the resulting price," Lolo claimed.

He also pointed out that the local canneries have to compete with lower cost operators especially those in Southeast Asia where direct input like labor and energy are much cheaper than America Samoa. And therefore, the local canneries are not competitive without a distinct economic benefit to offset their high cost of manufacturing.

"Fish cost is potentially one off set. The other is duty. With less supply, fish cost advantage is being eroded," Lolo said. "And the duty advantage is in jeopardy due to the Trans Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [trade agreements]."

The governor said federal regulations in other areas of the local economy also threaten the local tuna industry. For example, the recent hike in minimum wage.

It’s "a mistake" for US policy "to treat our purse seine fishery as part of the US purse seine fishery, because this means "our purse seine fleet has been treated as a distant water fishing nation fleet" and that "is wrong", he pointed out.

"Our purse seiners are part of our fishery. We need them to support the raw material requirements of our canneries," the governor argued. "In this regard we have already created a local registry to identify boats that are truly providing tuna supply to our canneries and commerce for our local businesses."

Lolo informed Pritzker that the federal government, NMFS and other federal agencies must recognize American Samoa’s suggestions and experience. "We have reached out for help on numerous issues and we have not been heard," he noted.

Through its regulatory process, the federal government is unintentionally putting American Samoa in a demeaning and difficult position, he said and noted that the territory is already uncomfortably dependent on the US for economic assistance.

And while grateful for this assistance, the governor said American Samoa desires to build a strong self-sustaining economy that is able to survive and flourish on its own.

"The tuna industry is under attack from all sides including foreign competition, we do not need the US government to be another obstacle for this industry to survive," he said and pleaded with Pritzker to "Please help sustain our tuna industry."

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment