Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to Mr. Carlos Sanchez’s guest editorial entitled, “American Samoa Fishing Fleet are not U.S. Purse Seiner Boats” published by Samoa News on July 22, 2008.
“I want to thank Mr. Sanchez for sharing his views regarding American Samoa’s fishing fleet,” Faleomavaega said. “Regarding our canneries and fishing fleet, I also want to clear up some misleading misinformation Mr. Sanchez has put forward.”
“First, regarding our new tuna purse seiners, Mr. Sanchez states that the “new tuna purse seiner boats were not built to supply American Samoa canneries.”
“For Mr. Sanchez’s information, as part of the agreement negotiated by the US State Department, the US Department of Commerce and the South Pacific Tuna Corporation, all of the fish from the new boats must be offered to US processors before any of the fish can be sold on the international market. Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing and Bumble Bee have the first right to purchase because these two processors entered into a contractual agreement to make sure their canneries are supplied. As the former manager of StarKist’s fishing fleet, Mr. Sanchez knows full well that StarKist also contracts directly with boat owners to make sure that its cannery is supplied. Why StarKist chose not to contract with any of the new boats is not known to me but it may have had something to do with its decision to sell its cannery in American Samoa. On the other hand, Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing has made a long-term commitment to American Samoa and has signed on to buy fish from the new tuna purse seiner boats.”
“Two, Mr. Sanchez states that the new boats will “transship their fish without having to go to port.”
“Regarding whether or not these boats ever pull into our port is something neither I nor our local government can control. These boats, like Mr. Sanchez’s smaller boats, are privately owned and, therefore, neither the federal government nor the local government can make them buy their fuel or supplies in American Samoa. If it is in their business interest to offload their fish on the high-seas, then I am sure they will do what they can to maximize their bottom line just like Mr. Sanchez and our canneries do what they can to maximize their bottom lines. As I have stated from the start, my concern is to make sure that our canneries have enough fish to stay in business and, if this means that in addition to buying from the old boats our canneries also have to buy fish from new boats that may or may not offload in American Samoa, then this is what it means.”
“Three, Mr. Sanchez states that “no Samoans are on-board the new boats.”
“On this point, Mr. Sanchez should know that if Samoans choose to be on the new boats, they can be, as the South Pacific Tuna Corporation assured me from the outset that they want to hire Samoans. For Samoans interested in working on these boats, they are welcome to contact my office and I will refer their applications to the South Pacific Tuna Corporation.”
“Four, Mr. Sanchez asks what my “agenda” is and why I am helping these new boats.”
“I would remind Mr. Sanchez that my position is a matter of public record. As I have repeatedly stated, I am helping our boats because the remaining 14 boats from the old fleet can no longer supply our canneries with all the fish they need to stay in business. No fish means no canneries and no canneries means no jobs for our workers. Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing, which is one of our largest employers in the Territory, recognizes this fact and has contracted with the new boats for the sole purpose of keeping its plant open in American Samoa, and you better believe I am going to do everything I can to help, and to make sure our workers keep their jobs. If this means supporting the new boats, then I am supporting the new boats. I am also supporting the old boats, as I have for the past twenty years. However, I would prefer not to refer to our fleet as old boats versus new boats. As far as I am concerned, there is only one US tuna fishing fleet and it includes the old boats, new boats, and American Samoa’s longliners.”
“Five, Mr. Sanchez criticizes Bumble Bee for not having a cannery in American Samoa.”
“Regardless of whether or not Bumble Bee owns a cannery in American Samoa, Bumble Bee has invested in the US tuna fishing fleet, and always has, which indirectly benefits American Samoa. Bumble Bee also worked side by side with American Samoa to keep our canneries open when StarKist tried to sell us off to Ecuador during the Andean Trade debate. Because of Bumble Bee’s support, the jobs of more than 5,000 workers in American Samoa were protected. Bumble Bee is our friend and I will continue to work with friends who support our people.”
“Six, Mr. Sanchez criticizes Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing for being owned by Thai Union, implying that Thai Union may buy the fish caught by the new boats.”
“Once again, the new boats are contractually bound to offer their fish to Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing or Bumble Bee before they can sell their fish to anyone else. Also, StarKist is soon to be owned by a Korean business, which negates Mr. Sanchez’s comments about Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing being owned by a company in Thailand.”
“Seven, Mr. Sanchez states that “Faleomavaega and the local government haven’t done anything about the shipyard” and that “the American Samoa shipyard receives zero help from the local government, zero help from the development bank, and zero help from Faleomavaega.”
“Clearly, Mr. Sanchez knows very little about the history or operations of our shipyard. When I worked as legal counsel to the late Congressman Phil Burton, Congress appropriated $4 million to renovate our shipyard which at the time was managed by ASG. During the Lutali Administration, ASG privatized the shipyard meaning ASG entered into a long-term lease agreement to turn over the operations and management of the shipyard to Southwest Marine, a company with offices in San Diego, California. Since that time and by contractual agreement, the shipyard has been and is the responsibility of Southwest Marine of Samoa, not the responsibility of the federal or local government. It is my understanding that Southwest Marine of Samoa is now interested in subleasing the shipyard to another company and discussions are ongoing with the local government.”
“Eight, Mr. Sanchez states, “If our Congressman is so magnanimous and has a priority goal of helping American Samoa, he will have to step down and see the ‘real’ American Samoa fishing fleet – the American Samoa longliner boats.”
“While I certainly appreciate Mr. Sanchez and our longliner boats, I think it is important for our people to know the following:
A) Our canneries process two kinds of tuna, albacore and lightmeat.
B) Of the two tunas, our canneries process more lightmeat than albacore.
C) The large US tuna purse seiner vessels catch mostly lightmeat tuna.
D) Mr. Sanchez and the smaller longliner boats catch mostly albacore.
E) Of the approximately 70,000 tons of albacore processed by our canneries per year, Mr. Sanchez and his longliner boats supply about 3 tons of albacore, which is not even one percent of the albacore our canneries need. In fact, most of the albacore supplied to our canneries comes from Taiwanese longliners, and having been in the business for more than 30 years, Mr. Sanchez knows this is the case.
F) Regarding lightmeat tuna, the longliners supply zero percent of the more than 130,000 tons of lightmeat tuna that is caught by the US tuna purse seiners and processed by our canneries every year.
“Given these facts, it is not right for Mr. Sanchez to mislead our people by suggesting that the ‘real’ fleet is only made up of longliners. The truth is, our ‘real’ fleet is made up of longliners and US tuna purse seiner vessels, both old and new. Having said this, Mr. Sanchez and I agree that American Samoa should build up its local fishing industry. Both canneries have tried to assist in this effort, and I believe both would be open to continued discussions.”
“Nine, Mr. Sanchez asks where I was regarding a request from American Samoa’s longliner fishing fleet to be allowed to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area.”
“For the record, I am committed to doing whatever I can do to make it possible for American Samoa’s longliners to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area. However, at no time has Mr. Sanchez ever written a letter requesting my support for this important initiative. About two months ago, I first learned of the longliner’s interest when Vince Haleck, who also owns longliner boats, called my office to ask for my help. I assured Mr. Haleck that I will work to get this effort underway, and I welcome the opportunity to work with Mr. Sanchez, too.”
“Ten, Mr. Sanchez states that he requested two meetings with me and, on both occasions, my staff cancelled an hour before the scheduled meetings.”
“For this, I apologize. While I was unaware of these appointments, I accept full responsibility and publicly offer my sincerest apologies to Mr. Sanchez. Despite whatever differences we may have, we share the same beliefs and goals. Like Mr. Sanchez, I believe American Samoa’s EEZ should be reserved for our local fisherman. I also believe that American Samoa’s longliners should be allowed to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area, and in the near future I hope to meet with Mr. Sanchez to discuss these issues further,” Faleomavaega concluded.