Despite Challenges, StarKist Committed To Remaining In American Samoa

Company says decision about land lease for expansion must be made soon

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Feb. 2, 2017) – US based StarKist Co. maintains that it is committed to American Samoa despite the many challenges the cannery continues to face, including the lack of land space to expand StarKist Samoa operations, with company officials saying a decision must be made soon by the government on the land lease at the ASG owned shipyard facility.

It’s been several years that StarKist has been seeking more land space for a freezer facility — going back to the first term of the Togiola Administration — but still nothing has been firmed up, when it comes to negotiations with the Lolo Administration.

Speaking at a news conference last Friday at the StarKist Samoa office, StarKist Co. vice president of corporate communications, Michelle Faist emphasized that the company “has been a committed member” of the American Samoa community since 1963, when the first plant opened in the territory.

“So for more than 54 years, we have been here, (through) thick and thin in American Samoa,” she said adding that StarKist has also seen companies come and go — for example, in 2009 Chicken of the Sea cannery closed down its operations, a day after the Sept. 29, 2009 tsunami, while “StarKist tried to open as soon as possible” following the tsunami.

And StarKist “is really committed to this community, getting the generators up and getting people back to work,” said Faist, adding that this is “one example of how StarKist continues to have a very strong commitment with this community and we’re incredibly proud of that.”

As part of its continued commitment, StarKist is seeking ASG’s help in securing a parcel of land because StarKist Samoa, which has a workforce of about 2,100 as of last Friday, requires more space for fish supplies to help maintain and sustain local operations.

Asked about former Samoa Tuna Processors (STP) cannery workers, StarKist Samoa official Taotasi Archie Soliai said, “We’ve received a lot of requests from those employees for employment.

“Currently we are not hiring new employees, because we’re already maxxed out. But nevertheless, we had a discussion internally with General Manager Mr. Kwon, and we’re reviewing what our needs are, and the demand coming from people seeking employment,” he said. “But essentially the challenges that we faced last year are with fish supply.”

However, he noted that the issue of negotiating land space with the ASG shipyard for freezer space has been ongoing. “It’s urgently needed in order for us to sustain this operation, space is required in order for us to improve the operation and then expand. We need space to do that,” he said.

Asked if StarKist gave ASG a deadline to reach a decision on the long standing space issue, Taotasi didn’t provide a direct reply, but said, “We just can’t keep kicking the can down the road. A decision needs to be made, because it’s affecting the plant, it caused four weeks of shut down last year because we had no fish supply.”

He said, “We’ve only got 10 days of storage in the current freezer, and based on the capacity that we’re producing, its no where near the standard that we want.”

Asked if ASG made a formal request to StarKist to hire former STP workers, about 800 of them, Taotasi responded, “We can’t absorb 800 employees.”

But at a meeting that was held late last year at the Governor’s Office with the governor’s people and several business representatives, Taotasi said a request was made by the Lolo Administration to all companies that are able to take on employees, to consider it.

“So they worked out a plan with respect to identifying skilled laborers and they’re sharing that with everybody,” he said.

“Despite the challenges and the issues StarKist is facing, we are still committed to working together with Gov. Lolo Moliga, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, and even the Fono,” Taotasi said.

“We’re still very adamant that we can continue a good working relationship with them and we look forward to this space being negotiated fairly soon. We’re quite hopeful that it will happen soon,” he noted.

Faist added, “We’re still hopeful to celebrate in the near future” upon reaching an agreement on the land lease.

And because negotiations are ongoing, StarKist declined to give details of their latest offer to ASG, as well as how large the parcel of land is that the cannery wants to lease.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2017. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

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