U.S. Tuna Treaty Brings No Special Benefits For American Samoa Industry


Commerce Director hopes Trump administration will put greater focus on helping local businesses

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 6, 2016) – While the new six-year South Pacific Tuna Treaty does not appear to provide any special recognition or benefits to the American Samoa’s tuna industry, Commerce Department Director Keniseli Lafaele says the Treaty is a way forward and the territory hopes to find opportunities under the Treaty that will benefit American Samoa.

Lafaele is also hopeful that the incoming administration of US President-elect Donald Trump will concentrate more on finding ways for the locally based US flag boats to compete in the global tuna industry.

Signed Dec. 3 (Saturday) during a ceremony in Nadi, Fiji, the new Treaty is valid through 2022 and is between the US and 16 Pacific Island countries. It allows the US purse seiner fleet to fish in waters of these Pacific countries. The Treaty was approved in “principle” during another round of negotiations held in Auckland, New Zealand in June this year.

Signing of the new Treaty came two days before the start Monday in Fiji of the week-long Western and Central Pacific Fishery Committee meeting in Nadi, for which American Samoa has a delegation that is part of the U.S. delegation.

Leading the local delegation is Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, who told Samoa News that signing of the new Treaty “is indeed an exciting occasion, being that it took 7 years to sign the Treaty with amendments.”

And the Treaty is “important for American Samoa because it sets operational terms and conditions for the U.S. tuna purse seine fleet to fish in waters under the jurisdiction of the Pacific Island Parties, which cover a wide swath of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean,” Matagi-Tofiga said via email from Nadi, over the weekend responding to Samoa News inquiries.

She points out that the U.S. purse seine fleet “operates under the highest commercial standard and subject to strict U.S. enforcement authorities... that curtails illegal and unregulated fishing.”

She added, “IUU — illegal, unreported and unregulated — fishing undermines conservation and management of fish stocks.”

Asked for comments on the new Treaty, as the DOC director, Lafaele told Samoa News the “signing ceremony was monumental, a culmination of hard work and perseverance by both parties throughout the many frustrating negotiation sessions.”

However, with Tri Marine International’s Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. cannery closing its canning operation in American Samoa on Dec 11, “indefinitely”, and StarKist Samoa is considering more intermittent closures due to fish supply issues among others, “then we're not so sure the Treaty... will make much difference in saving the tuna industry in American Samoa.”

He also said that it appears that while the Treaty provides a basis for continued access to the fishing grounds in the Western and Central Pacific which is needed by the US flag purse seiners based in American Samoa, “it gives no special recognition or benefit to the American Samoa tuna industry.”

“The higher access fees and limited fishing days under the Treaty translates directly into higher cost for buyers such as the manufacturers in the Territory, making it more difficult for them to compete with other manufacturing locations where costs related to labor, fish supply and energy are substantially lower,” Lafaele said.

“The Treaty as signed nonetheless is a done deal and a way forward, and we hope to find under the Treaty opportunities that American Samoa can benefit from,” he said via email from Nadi on Saturday evening.

“Compounding our tuna industry's diminishing comparative advantage” is the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “culture of conservation — expanding marine monuments/ sanctuaries and regulating the US fleet including boats supplying the factories in American Samoa,” he explained.

“Then there's the matter of American Samoa not being recognized as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), foregoing special allowances given to SIDS to fish on the high seas,” he said. “American Samoa, with a fledgling economy sustained only by the tuna industry and government, is as vulnerable as any SIDS in the Pacific.”

“We would like to see AS based tuna boats supplying AS canneries be allowed to fish on the high seas,” said Lafaele, who is also a member of the American Samoa delegation to the WCPFC meeting in Fiji.

“We — Dr. Matagi-Tofiga along with Solip Hong, chair of Governor's fishery task force and me — intend to bring to the fore the SIDS matter and other relevant issues” in the WCPFC meeting, via the State Department led US delegation, he said.

“We are hopeful the incoming Trump Administration will concentrate more on finding ways for the American Samoa based US flag boats to compete in what is a global tuna industry, otherwise the tuna industry in the Territory will disappear,” he said.

Besides Matagi-Tofiga, Lafaele and Hong, other members of the American Samoa delegation to the WCPFC are Tri Marine International chief operations officer Joe Hamby; Fishery Council Scientist Eric Kingman; DMWR Chief Fishery Biologist Dr Domingo Ochavillo; and DMWR supervisor on boat base Tepora Lavata’i.

In a statement released Saturday, the US State Department says revisions to the approved Treaty will generate higher economic returns from fisheries for Pacific Island countries, while supporting the continued viable operation of the U.S. fishing fleet in the region.

“The continued operation of the U.S. fishing industry also provides important economic benefits to... American Samoa, which played an active role on the U.S. delegation in recent years,” the statement says and noted that the US government will continue to provide $21 million annually to support economic development in the Pacific Island region.

The Samoa News
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