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Fishery council chair: Without tuna cannery, American Samoa becomes 'useless' to the US

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

By Pacific Island Times News Staff Killing American Samoa’s tuna-dependent economy is “morally wrong” and unconstitutional, the chair of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council said, reiterating his opposition to the Biden administration’s plan to expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine monument. “This administration’s [executive orders] on equity and environmental justice goals are rubbish if this sanctuary proposal becomes a reality for there will be no commercial fishing,” Will Sword said at the Council Coordination Committee meeting held Oct. 11-13 in Alexandria, Virginia. American Samoa’s economy is solely dependent on the tuna cannery in Pago Pago, the territory's capital.

The tuna sector accounts for 99.5 percent of American Samoa's exports and 84 percent of the territory’s private employment.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, American Samoa's real gross domestic product decreased 0.8 percent in 2021 as a result of a decline in private sector earnings.

"The private sector decreased 5.2 percent, primarily reflecting a decline in manufacturing. The decline in manufacturing reflected decreased tuna cannery output," the report said.

The cannery relies on the fish caught by the U.S. longline and purse seine fleets in the Pacific Remote Islands. Acting on the presidential directive in March, the Department of Commerce is preparing to further block off more portions of the Pacific Remote Islands marine monument.


Currently, the Pacific Remote Islands monument area consists of approximately 495,189 square miles in the central Pacific Ocean, encompassing seven islands and atolls: Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Island; Johnston, Wake, and Palmyra Atoll; and Kingman Reef.

According to the White House, the potential new National Marine Sanctuary would conserve 777,000 square miles, including the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and currently unprotected submerged lands and waters.

"Overfishing can completely destroy fish populations and communities that once relied upon the fish that were there. This is particularly true for island communities," states an article by Coty Perry published in Anglers.

"And it’s worth remembering that there are many isolated points on the globe where fishing isn’t just the driver of the economy, but also the primary source of protein for the population," Perry wrote.

The proposed marine sanctuary expansion in the Pacific Remote Islands would further ban fishing within the protected areas.

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'The nail in the coffin to American Samoa's tuna industry'

“Without our cannery, we become useless to this great country. Our underserved fishing community suffers, for fishing is our culture,” said Sword, who represents American Samoas at the council. “We cannot survive the current policies and actions by the (Department of Commerce), especially if the [Pacific Remote Islands] sanctuary is implemented,” he added.

American Samoa is the fifth largest producer of processed fish in the United States and territories.


At the committee meeting, John Armor, director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, explained the existing fishing regulatory language and the council’s role in decision-making. The committee questioned the compressed timeline for sanctuary development compared to past practice and suggested that the sanctuary office consultation should occur earlier and more often in the process. The proposed new sanctuary is in line with the Biden administration's goal to conserve and restore at least 30 percent of the country's lands and waters by 2030. According to the council, the National Marine Fisheries Service's data analysis presented at a recent workshop in American Samoa demonstrated there is no added conservation benefit of the proposed sanctuary. “This top-down approach to regulating fisheries is wrong. It is completely opposite of the [Magnuson-Stevens Act] process where the bottom-up approach is mandatory,” Sword said.

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