Processing Company: US Must Support American Samoa Tuna Industry

Tri Marine notes cannery industry is backbone of territorial economy

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 18, 2016) – Tri Marine International chief operations officer Joe Hamby has brought up with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council several issues concerning the tuna industry in American Samoa, pointing to the industry as the backbone of the territory’s economy and support must happen that “can be measured in economic terms.”

A letter discussing the issues by Hamby, who is also the acting chief executive officer of Tri Marine-owned Samoa Tuna Processors cannery, was distributed to members of the Council during it’s 168th meeting in Honolulu last week.

Tri Marine announced last week that canning operations at STP would be suspended indefinitely effective Dec. 11. 

In his Oct. 14 letter to the Council, Hamby recalled that the local tuna industry consists of two large scale canneries, a number of purse seiners, longliners and alias. He noted purse seiners are mostly US flagged, while the longliners are foreign flagged, except for the locally based US flagged fleet.

“I understand that there are no alias currently targeting tuna,” he said. “The alias therefore represent potential participants in the American Samoa tuna industry.”

The local tuna industry also includes service providers like ship handlers, maintenance and repair companies, stevedores, net repair yards, a shipyard, transportation, agents, hotels, restaurants, etc.

“The tuna industry is the backbone of the American Samoa economy,” he declared and said the tuna canneries depend on the US market as tuna products from American Samoa are exempt from duty in the US.

“Without this duty exemption, the canneries are not competitive with lower cost sources of canned tuna. Free trade agreements, like TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), are a serious threat to the American Samoa tuna industry,” Hamby said.

He also wrote there is “overcapacity” in the tuna fishing fleets, both purse seiners and longliners. And this results in periods of oversupply and oversupply results in lower prices. Furthermore, at times the prices go below the cost of fishing.

“For American Samoa, low market prices reduce the value of their duty exemption,” he said and explained that the “higher the value of the tuna, the higher the value of the ad valorem duty exemption.”

Hamby also pointed out “there is overcapacity in tuna processing” He said low cost Southeast Asian tuna processors quote prices that are below their full cost of production in order to win bids solicited by US buyers.

“Pricing is based on incremental costs as they treat the production for these opportunistic orders to contribute to overhead and not to profits,” he explained. “These below cost prices offered by canneries with low cost labor, canneries which may not be socially responsible and may be using unsustainable fish supply, are competition for American Samoa.

According to the Tri Marine official, US President Barack Obama’s Task Force on seafood fraud and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a work in progress and does not seem to be a significant factor in limiting imports of canned tuna from marginal and suspect sources of supply.

“American Samoa’s only advantage besides duty free access to the US market is fish supply. That advantage has been reduced and may be considered lost due to closure or reduced access to of some of American Samoa’s traditional fishing grounds,” he said. “I refer to the Marine Protected Areas, Kiribati and the high seas.”

He notesd the US National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) has studied and confirmed the adverse economic impact of the closure on the US purse seiner fleet fishing in US exclusive economic zones and in high seas area, known as Effort Limited Area for Purse Seiners (ELAPS).

“When the high seas are closed, less fish is delivered to American Samoa. In these days we are seeing the consequences of restricting the American Samoa based US flagged purse seiners from fishing on the high seas,” he said. “StarKist has had to shut down due to lack of fish. Samoa Tuna Processors is suspending canning operations for economic reasons, one of which is related to fish supply.”

Hamby reminded the Council that American Samoa is a small island developing territory, and US flagged American Samoa based purse seiners and longliners should be allowed the same rights afforded other island states and territories, including high seas access. 

“This must be balanced with conservation measures that achieve desired sustainability outcomes, like target and limit reference points, harvest control rules, and FAD (fish aggregating device) management,” he said. “However, we believe that other tools such as MPA’s (marine protected area) are not as effective in protecting highly migratory species like tuna as they are with near shore species.

In closing Hamby said, “If US public policy does not change to protect and support the American Samoa tuna industry, support that can be measured in economic terms, it will be lost.”

Most of the discussion regarding the impact on American Samoa economy and fisheries was held last Thursday during the meeting section on “Pelagic and International Fisheries”. It was also during this time that one of the paragraphs from Hamby’s letter was read by Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, who is one of the two new members from American Samoa that sits on the Council. The other new member is Taotasi Archie Soliai.

RECOMMENDATION

In a news release following its meeting Friday, the Council says NMFS reported that the American Samoa fisheries and canneries were impacted by closure of the American Samoa based purse-seine fishery due to implementation of the WCPFC-developed ELAPS.

The Council recommended that NMFS continue to develop rule-making to address disproportionate impacts to the economy of American Samoa from high seas effort limits applicable to US purse seine vessels.

It also recommended a study be undertaken on the impact of the ELAPS closure on the American Samoa economy as a whole.

The Samoa News
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