Rough times for American Samoa / by Francisco Blaha

There have been hard time for the American canning industry as whole, but for a small "Pacific Country" like American Samoa (they have US passports, but not the same entitlements than the rest of their citizens) the recent announcement by Tri Marine that it would be closing the Samoa Tuna Processors factory, resulting in 800 layoffs, is particularly tough. There are not a lot of other jobs there.

 those were the day of a busy port

those were the day of a busy port

The closure seems to be the result of numerous factors combining, the fleet was prevented from entering much of its prime fishing grounds for a several-month period earlier this year as the South Pacific Tuna Treaty expired and negotiations to revive it proceeded slowly. Even after the treaty was renewed, fishing was tough with the fish moving east, resulting in raw materials shortages at its factory.

And late last year, Tri Marine missed out on a federal tax break known as the American Samoan tax credit, which saved companies that had previously established production facilities in the territory millions of dollars, but didn’t apply to companies that had been built after 2006.

In January 2015, Tri Marine, opened a new USD 70 million tuna canning factory in the village of Atu’u. The Samoa Tuna Processors factory was equipped with state-of-the-art technology producing shelf-stable and frozen products that were marketed and sold to the U.S. through The Tuna Store, Tri Marine’s downstream distribution arm. Their outlook was on a business model of vertical integration between its U.S. flagged vessels, its processing facilities and its distribution channels, allowing it to market and sell “Product of the USA”-labeled tuna to its private-label customers.

The “Product of the USA” is a noble initiative, but the realities of tuna as a commodity food and the supply issues seems to been too much. As a major seller to private label food retailers, Tri Marine also had to convince its large corporate buyers that its tuna was worth a premium.

I know personally some of the top management in Tri Marine, and they are good solid people, committed to the Pacific... I'm sure it must have been a tough decision for them to make, not only at a commercial level, but at a personal level too. I really feel for them.

 younger days when we will go to unload in Pago Pago

younger days when we will go to unload in Pago Pago

I have not been in Pago for many years now, but is hard to believe that the bustling place I knew is nonexistent now... our problem was how long it took to unload because the huge amount of boats waiting... now if that there are no boats coming with fish. 

Interestingly, there are at least the 14 US flag tuna vessels (owned by Ocean Global Fisheries, Sea Global Fisheries and Pacific Global, collectively known as the Global Fleets) but these "American vessels" vessels do not operate at all in relationship to American Samoa, but align themselves with Taiwanese capital and trading operations so basically they catch for Thailand and not for the "home" country.

As usual, tuna fisheries are full of twists and complexities.