Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that on April 24, 2008, the House passed H.R. 2830, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2008 which includes his provision to allow U.S. purse seine vessels to fish in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of all the Pacific Islands Parties including any of the U.S. EEZs except Hawaii.
“Last week, I met with Chicken of the Sea executives to discuss minimum wage and the company’s commitment to American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said. “We also had the opportunity to talk about our U.S. tuna fishing fleet.”
“Right now, according to our canneries, our U.S. tuna fishing fleet cannot supply all the fish our canneries need. As our canneries say, if there is no fish, there are no canneries. So, to keep our canneries operational, it is necessary for us to strengthen our U.S. tuna fishing fleet.”
“However, it is also important for us to understand the history of our fleet. Most of our tuna boats used to fish in the Eastern Pacific and operated out of San Diego. But, when U.S. law mandated that tuna had to be dolphin safe, the boat owners shifted their operations to the South Pacific and began operating out of American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said.
“Over the decades, the boats have gotten old, the price of tuna has gone down, gas prices have gone up, and our fleet has dwindled down from about 35 boats to 14, and this raises serious questions about where our canneries are going to get their fish. This is why I have been working with the South Pacific Tuna Corporation (SPTC) to increase the number of tuna boats in our fleet.”
“According to the terms of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which was negotiated by our U.S. State Department, the U.S. is allowed up to 40 vessels to fish in Pacific waters, and we are hopeful to increase our fleet from 14 to 24 vessels in the next year or two.”
“In other words, for the first time in 30 years, we are adding new boats to the U.S. tuna fishing fleet. The new vessels are technologically advanced vessels which we need in order to compete against fishing fleets from other countries including those from Asia which have been building up their fleets for years. Since U.S. shipping yards haven’t built a tuna vessel in the past 30 years, our new boats are being built in Taiwan because Taiwan has probably the best tuna boat building capabilities in the world.”
“Although the vessels are being built in Taiwan, they are most definitely U.S flag vessels and are licensed to fish in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area. However, because of a glitch in a 1984 law, they are not allowed to fish in U.S. EEzs such as waters around Howland Island, Baker Island, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Wake Island, and Guam. But, thanks to the support of my colleagues, the House has accepted my provision to allow our new U.S. boats to fish and transfer fish in these waters except in or around Hawaii.”
“I am hopeful that the Senate will also support this provision given that American Samoa must do all it can to make sure we have fish coming into our canneries. While the new vessels are equipped to transfer fish from the high seas and may not call in port as often as our older fleet, our first concern has to be with supplying our canneries with fish. Our second concern has to be to upgrade our fleet so we can compete with fleets from Asia and other countries.”
“As our canneries agree, building up our U.S. tuna fishing fleet is a good thing for American Samoa. Our older tuna boats will still get their fuel from American Samoa and our new boats will help us supply more fish to our canneries.”
“No matter who owns our canneries, I believe both canneries are committed to doing business in American Samoa if the business climate is favorable. While we are working to address minimum wage, rising energy costs are as serious a threat as minimum wage increases, and I hope our local government will work closely with our canneries who are seeking ASG’s help to reduce their energy costs,” Faleomavaega concluded.