A shadow hanging over the territory during the festive season and which still remains as we start 2016 is where the two canneries StarKist Samoa and Samoa Tuna Processors are going to get their fish.
As we reported more than 30 purse seiners that were fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean have now tied up their vessels as they don’t have licenses to fish in these waters.
In august of 2015 the US reached agreement with Pacific island countries regarding the conditions for access to pacific Island waters for 2016 and the parties signed a statement of intent that reflected this agreement.
The Statement of Intent is an agreement between the Pacific Island governments and the US Government even though to described obligations that fall to US vessel owners through the American Tunaboat Owners Association, ATA.
The Statement of Intent that was signed entails a total of 6,250 fishing days in the region.
In return the agreed industry payment to be made through the American Tunaboat Owners Association is $68.2 million.
The ATA payment is in addition to an annual US Government contribution of $21 million for economic assistance to the Pacific Island Countries that are party to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.
According to a statement from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), in November of 2015, FFA as the administrator of the Treaty received advice from the US Government that US industry was unable to make the first quarterly payment.
The reason is that economic conditions within the fleet means that some vessels no longer require or can afford the days they committed to in August 2015.
The US Government proposed to revise the 2016 Statement of Intent to reduced the number of fishing days by 1,930, with an associated reduction in the ATA payment of almost $23 million.
Pacific Island Countries are upset with the action taken by the US and have advised Washington that no Treaty licenses will be issued for 2016 unless the complete expected quarterly payment is received.
FFA says at this time it appears certain that no payment will be forthcoming.
The US Government has not lodged any license applications which further indicates that payment will not be forthcoming.
Impact on local canneries
What impact will this have on the two local canneries which employ about 2,800 people between them, and on which the American Samoa economy relies?
KHJ News asked both StarKist Samoa and Samoa Tuna Processors about their situation.
STP is not ready to make any comments but Starkist Samoa has responded.
Asked how long their current fish supply will last, StarKist Vice President Michelle Faist said they are currently supplied with full freezers and boats waiting to be unloaded.
But any further disruption to the direct delivery of fish “will be a problem for the canneries.”
Does Starkist have any alternate fish suppliers?
Faist says they are exploring all options including the procurement of fish via reefer vessels; however, she said the alternate supply sources “are limited, expensive and unsustainable over the long term.”
She elaborates that the tuna industry is a globally competitive, largely commoditized business where profit and loss are “determined by pennies.”
Faist says that American Samoa has historically been an attractive location from which tuna products could be manufactured as a result of a reliable and high quality supply of whole fish directly delivered from purse seine vessels to the canneries.
“But this main advantage is being eroded, and that is adding additional burden and cost to StarKist’s operation,” she said.
KHJ News asked if StarKist has any recommendation as a way to resolve the licensing of US tuna boats to fish in Pacific waters.
The cannery vice president said this is a closed negotiation between the US Government, the US boat owners and the PNA Pacific Island nations.
She suggests the first thing the US Government can do is to grant more access for the US fleet to US waters and to the high seas.
The cannery executive states, “It is concerning that the US boats cannot even gain access to the high seas without the permission of the PNA nations.”
This is a reference to the current ban placed by the National Marine Fisheries Service on fishing in the high seas areas and EEZ‘s of the US, as part of conservation measures.