12 Aug 2015

Job loss warning serious for American Samoa

3:32 pm on 12 August 2015

StarKist's warning of hundreds of job losses in American Samoa is being taken seriously in the territory.

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Photo: RNZI

The firm, which has a fish cannery in Pago Pago and is the territory's largest private employer, has warned more than 2,000 people will be out of work if there are no fish deliveries to its factory by next week.

Earlier this year, as a conservation measure, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) closed off an area of the high seas to US purse seiners meaning the entire American Samoa fleet has had to fish much further afield and have its catch processed elsewhere.

Our correspondent in Pago Pago Monica Miller says 80 percent of the local economy is tied to the canneries.

"It'll be quite disastrous. In previous instances where the cannery has even been closed down for maintenance, you see the retail sector is affected, alot of the businesses that supply the tuna boats, it'll really affect their sales."

Monica Miller says there is a meagre food voucher scheme but no unemployment benefit for those who may be out of work.

She says whole there are whole families who work at the cannery.

"Also the presence of the fishing fleet in the territory enables the fuel suppliers, the utilities, to reduce the cost of fuel here in the territory and we're told we have one of the lowest in the Pacific."

The President and CEO of StarKist which oversees the Samoa operations, Andrew Choe, made the warning in a letter to the NOAA as part of a rallying effort for an exemption to the new fishing rules.

He says while StarKist holds a certain amount of raw materials in cold storage, there are no deliveries scheduled until the second half of August.

The company says it is exploring all options, but Mr Choe says they are quite limited and unsustainable over the long term.

The CEO of Starkist, Andrew Choe

The CEO of Starkist, Andrew Choe Photo: RNzi

Exemptions sought

Last month, another company, Tri Marine International, requested an emergency exemption to federal rules so it can supply its American Samoa tuna cannery.

It said the closure of the seas to US flagged fishing fleets meant Tri Marine's fleet of 12 purse seiners based in American Samoa would struggle to supply enough tuna to Samoa Tuna Processors cannery.

Tri Marine also stated that the unusually low tuna price, and the higher cost of fishing grounds in the region brought the ability of American Samoa-based tuna vessels to operate profitably, into serious question.

It has also said that the loss of a reliable supply of tuna from these vessels will jeopardise the ability of the canneries in American Samoa to compete in world markets.

Cannery, American Samoa

Cannery, American Samoa Photo: Supplied