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Canneries look for a list of concessions from American Samoa

PAGO PAGO (Samoa News/Pacnews) — Faced with a decline in their competitive advantage, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira says the canneries are seeking concessions from the government and a response is being formulated to help the canneries — the largest private employer in the territory.

The canneries and fishing industry in American Samoa are facing serious challenges with the fishing restrictions imposed in June — and since the beginning of 2016, the Forum Fisheries Agency or FFA is no longer issuing fishing licenses to the U.S. fleeting to fish in waters of 17 Pacific island countries under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.

And last week, the U.S. State Department announced its intent to withdraw from the nearly 30-year old treaty and the FFA, administrator of the treaty, has circulated notice of this to the affected island countries.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Iulogologo said the governor’s office has not received an official notification about the U.S. Department of State’s decision to withdraw from the treaty, and therefore is not privy to the reasons prompting the federal government’s decision. However, he said the administration received notification of the withdraw decision from cannery officials.

Further, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga “has received letters from the canneries documenting the concessions (requested) from the government to prop up the decline in their competitive advantage,” Iulogologo explained. “These concessions will be considered by the American Samoa Fisheries Task Force.”

And given “the wide scope of the list of concessions requested,” Iulogologo said American Samoa’s semi-autonomous agencies “will be involved in discussion and formulation of our response to the canneries relative to what it will provide.”

While he didn’t reveal details of the concessions, Iulogologo said he is certain the governor will address the issue with Fono or local legislative leaders before a decision is made.

He explained that the Lolo administration has made known to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State Department “our concerns over the negative impact of treaty on the viability of our canneries. I think the fundamental issue is: current price of fish will not generate enough income to cover the cost of operation. Hence it is not economically feasible to go out fishing.”

And “if there is no change to fishing grounds prohibitions, the fishing vessels will move to areas where fishing is allowed and there is no guarantee that the fish will be off-loaded at our canneries because of the distance,” he said. “The governor is very concerned with the current uncertainties being faced by the canneries, which will directly cripple our economy.”

“So the governor and the Fono are working collaboratively to establish economic development projects to ease the devastation on our people should one of the canneries leave. The economic development thrust now is economic diversification,” he said.

The U.S. fishing fleet has cited the low price of tuna and other factors that have contributed to making it unaffordable for vessels owners to pay the mandatory fee provided under the Treaty, for which the U.S. government pays $21 million annually in aid to Pacific island nations.  

FFA announced Wednesday that it has circulated an advisory to treaty members on the current default status of the treaty payment, along with the letter from the U.S. government advising of its intentions to withdraw. FFA also says that the U.S. has apparently sent formal notification to Papua New Guinea as the treaty depository. Withdrawal will become final by January 2017.

Depending on how the Pacific Island nations and U.S. move on restructuring the treaty, the notice of withdrawal can be revoked if a resolution to the current impasse can be reached, FFA said in a statement.

Additionally, urgent regional meetings are being convened on the future role for the government-to-government treaty, while also allowing for more flexible and direct commercial arrangements between vessel operators and the individual countries in whose waters they fish.

“The U.S. (has) indicated they remain open to this discussion so we will continue to progress towards mutually beneficial outcomes for 2017 and beyond,” FFA director-general Wez Norris is quoted in the statement as saying. “We have a clear directive and wish from the Pacific to resolve the issue, on terms that do not compromise their fisheries and economic objectives, or the spirit of a treaty which has delivered benefits for both the U.S. and Pacific nations.”

Tri Marine International, owner of locally based Samoa Tuna Processors cannery, said in a statement that the treaty in its current form, “fails to deliver the most value to the resource owners because the Vessel Day Scheme places value on fishing days alone, rather than the tuna itself and does not necessarily represent the long-term best interests of island communities.”

StarKist has yet to reply to Samoa News’ request for comments on the withdrawal decision as well as how the company will get raw material supplies for StarKist Samoa, which employs some 2,000 workers.