|| Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is supporting the U.S. Coast Guard’s draft policy which would require the U.S. Distant Water Tuna Fleet (DWTF) to pull into American Samoa’s port once a year.
“At today’s IGIA meeting, I informed Governor Togiola that I have submitted comments to the U.S. Coast Guard in support of its draft policy and I am pleased that Governor Togiola shares my concerns and that we are united on this issue,” Faleomavaega said. “The full text of my letter to the U.S. Coast Guard, which I shared with the Governor, is included below.”
RE: Docket No. USCG-2010-1146
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing in support of the USCG’s Draft Policy Letter (CG-543) on “Safety Requirements and Manning Exemption Eligibility on Distant Water Tuna Fleet Vessels” published in the Federal Register on January 20, 2011.
I am also writing to rebut misinformation put forward by the South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC) in response to USCG-2010-1146.
In 2005, as a Member of Congress representing the U.S. Territory of American Samoa, I was involved with the enactment of the initial 2006 foreign officer provision. At the time, I was visited by many of the individuals now on the (SPTC) team, as well as Mr. Dave Burney, now deceased, who served as the Executive Director of the U.S. Tuna Foundation.
Due to a shortage of licensed U.S. citizens willing to serve as officers on U.S. tuna vessels, Mr. Burney and many of the individuals now on the SPTC team sought my support for a provision which would allow the U.S.-flag distant water tuna fleet to employ internationally licensed personnel to serve as officers (except for the master). These individuals informed my office that this exemption was necessary to keep American Samoa’s economy stable and our canneries operational given that the Territory’s private sector economy is more than 80% dependent, directly or indirectly, on the U.S. fishing and processing industries.
I was also informed that this provision was necessary to build up the fishing fleet which had dwindled to about 12 or 14 boats. No boats meant no fish to American Samoa’s canneries and no fish meant no canneries.
So, for the benefit of American Samoa, language was inserted in the Senate to accommodate an exemption. However, because Congress intended the provision to help American Samoa’s canneries and economy, the provision stipulated that the exemption would only apply to tuna vessels home-ported in American Samoa.
Because of the uniqueness of the provision, Congress also limited the provision to 48 months and set an expiration date of July 10, 2010. Within that 48-month time period, it was my understanding that the U.S. Tuna Foundation and the individuals who are now part of the SPTC team would work to establish a program to train U.S. citizens and Nationals to serve as officers but this promise was not kept.
Also, last year, without consultation, SPTC’s lobbyist sought to broaden the exemption to allow tuna vessels home-ported in Guam or CNMI to receive the same crew exemption as tuna vessels home-ported in American Samoa. Although SPTC failed in its attempt, it called into question SPTC’s motive for broadening an exemption since neither CNMI nor Guam have a tuna industry. I believe SPTC’s motive is easily explained by a brief overview of the U.S. tuna fishing fleet.
The U.S. Tuna Fishing Fleet
The U.S. tuna fishing fleet is currently made up of about 39 vessels, with one license still available. About 14 of these vessels are 100% U.S. owned. The other 25 tuna boats are newer vessels, built in foreign countries, with 51% U.S. ownership, and 49% foreign-ownership. Most of the foreign-built boats are part of a company known as the South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC).
Mr. ChrisLischewski, CEO and former President of Bumble Bee, is a part-owner of South Pacific Tuna Corporation. Chicken of the Sea and/or its parent company, Thai Union, is also a part-owner of the foreign-built tuna boats.
Whether U.S. or foreign-built, all 39 tuna boats, or the entire U.S. tuna fishing fleet, fishes under the auspices of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, a treaty between the United States and 16 Pacific Island nations. Under the terms of the Treaty, the U.S. government pays out $18 million annually to the Pacific Island parties in return for the right of our U.S. tuna boats to fish in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the 16 Pacific Island parties to the Treaty. The U.S. tuna boats also pay the Pacific Island parties about $3 million or more per year, depending on the amount of tuna they catch.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the landed value of the catch in 2008 was in excess of $200 million but the value of the tuna as it moves through the processing and distribution chain may be as much as $400 to $500 million.
Of the approximate 300,000 metric tons of tuna that is caught, which is referred to as whole fish, about 120,000 metric tons is direct-delivered to American Samoa per year. Direct delivery means the tuna boats actually pull into American Samoa’s port and offload their catch. Given Chicken of the Sea’s closure, the amount of tonnage direct-delivered to American Samoa is now less but with the presence of a new cannery, Tri-Marine, we expect to be operating again at full capacity.
Contrary to SPTC’s claims, American Samoa has the capacity to process up to 280,000 metric tons with room for growth. Nonetheless, for purposes of this statement, I want to point out what happens to the other 180,000 metric tons which American Samoa is not processing right now.
What happens is that the foreign-built tuna boats owned by SPTC, which Chicken of the Sea and/or Thai Union have part ownership in, are transshipping their catch to foreign nations where the tuna is cleaned, or loined, by workers who are paid $0.75 cents and less per hour.
In other words, 25 members of our very own U.S. tuna fishing fleet sell off their catch to foreign nations and then send the cleaned tuna loin back to Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea so that these two tuna canneries can maximize their corporate profits while off-shoring American jobs. These 25 members of the U.S. tuna fishing fleet do this despite the fact that they fly the U.S. flag and are subsidized by the American taxpayer to the tune of $18 million per year to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area. And what does the American taxpayer get in return? We get a depleted tuna stock and new threats to safety.
In the time it takes to make 3 direct-deliveries, the new SPTC foreign-built tuna boats can make 5 transshipment deliveries by off-loading their catch to a big mother ship meaning that they can return more quickly to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty fishing grounds where they can catch more and more tuna at a more maddening pace, with less U.S. Coast Guard oversight because of SPTC’s unwillingness to pull into American Samoa’s port once a year.
Disregarding U.S. interests and outsourcing American resources was never the Congressional intent of a crew exemption provision.
While SPTC would have the USCG believe that the U.S. House of Representatives supported a permanent exemption, this is not the case. What happened is SPTC had language inserted in H.R. 3619 without the knowledge of Guam, CNMI or American Samoa. But, last year, during conference, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate agreed with my position and put a halt to SPTC’s request to make this provision permanent.
The House and Senate also agreed to require the DWTF to undergo a safety inspection in American Samoa once a year in order to accommodate my request for an annual call on the Territory’s port.
On the evening before the bill went for a vote, SPTC’s representatives visited my office and begged for an as-is two-year extension conditioned on the promise that SPTC would work to do right by American Samoa and honor its original commitments. In good-faith, I agreed to work with SPTC.
Regrettably, I have reviewed SPTC’s statement submitted to the USCG and I am disappointed that once more, SPTC, has misrepresented the facts surrounding this manning provision or American Samoa’s capabilities.
The original intent of a crew exemption provision was to bolster American Samoa’s economy, not increase SPTC profits. This is why the exemption was only granted to vessels operating in and out of American Samoa. No other boats were provided this exemption and I am hopeful that the USCG will hold to Congressional intent and move forward with its Draft Policy Letter.
“In addition to submitting this statement for the record, I will be working with the House and Senate to bolster support for the USCG’s draft policy. I have also requested a full briefing regarding any new developments relating to this situation and, as this matter progresses, I will keep our people updated,” Faleomavaega concluded.