OP-ED: TO PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP
TALOFA lava from American Samoa, and congratulations on your stunning election victory! The people of American Samoa and I are proud of the spirited and effective campaign you ran and the success you achieved. We are also very pleased to advise that our congresswoman, Republican Aumua Amata Radewagen, the most senior member of the Republican National Committee, was re-elected with an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote.
American Samoa is a proud and loyal territory of the United States. We are especially proud that our U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Pago Pago has been ranked first in production out of the 885 Army recruiting stations and centers located throughout the world. Our strategic location in the South Pacific is just as vital to United States’ interests today — with the ever increasing involvement of China in the Pacific region — as it was back in the early 1900s and during World War II, when American Samoa served as a critical refueling station and staging base for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations in the Pacific.
But what makes American Samoa an asset to the United States — its location in the South Pacific — also creates its biggest challenge. Our remote location far from the mainland U.S. and other large population centers results in unique challenges to our ability to create and grow a sustainable economy. Certain federal laws and regulations, created with good intentions but with little or no consideration of their potential impact on remote insular areas such as American Samoa, have only exacerbated these challenges. While there are many issues for which we need help, and for which we have been crying out for years, I kindly request your assistance on the following issue which is of critical importance to our residents here in American Samoa.
The tuna industry in American Samoa accounts for nearly 80 percent of our economy. The industry is comprised of two tuna canneries, Samoa Tuna Processors and Starkist, and the servicing of boats that deliver their catch for canning. The two canneries are, by far, the largest private sector employers in the Territory. Recently we received the devastating news that Samoa Tuna Processors will suspend their canning operations indefinitely effective Dec. 11.” This means that 800 workers will lose their employment, which is nearly 5 percent of our total workforce and will equate to a jump from 10 percent to 15 percent in the unemployment rate. But this number is just the beginning as businesses that support the cannery will all be affected and the money spent by laid off workers both at the cannery and in the support sector will no longer be circulating in our economy.
A shortfall in fish supply is a central reason for the suspension of canning. Unfortunately, federal polices are tied directly to the lack fish supply and its negative impact on the tuna industry. The closure of rich fishing grounds, the creation of unnecessary monuments, the failure to utilize American Samoa’s designation as a participating territory in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and as a Small Island Developing State and other similar policies are all threatening an industry that has been processing tuna in American Samoa since the l 950’s.
The creation and expansion of monuments must be rolled back. Catching fish is the foundation of the tuna industry, which means we need ocean in which to fish. Sadly, in recent years the creation of National Monuments has greatly reduced fishing grounds in the Pacific. In 2000 President Clinton created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Reserve. President Bush established the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in 2006 and the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll monuments in 2009. President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands monument in 2014 from 83,000 square miles to 490,000 square miles. The latest expansion occurred on August 26, 2016, when President Obama increased the size of the PMNM making it the largest marine protected area in the world.
Mr. President-elect, over 30 percent of U.S. waters in the Pacific are now closed to fishing because of the National Monuments. The trend of closing areas to the U.S. fishing industry must be stopped and, we believe, reversed. While conservation is important it must be balanced with the economic needs of the Pacific Island Territories and Hawaii. If the U.S. fishing industry is to survive in the Pacific, there must be more ocean in which to fish.
In the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, members that have been designated as participating territories or small island states under the Convention are privy to special benefits including a greater number of fishing days for their fleets. American Samoa is a participating territory under the WCPFC and has also been designated as a Small Island Developing State by the United Nations. As such, American Samoa is allowed a greater number of fishing days. This is vital because fishing days are limited by the National Marine Fisheries Service and extremely expensive when purchased.
Unfortunately, while the WCPFC allows special treatment for American Samoa, the National Marine Fisheries Service has not granted privileges that are available. In May of 2015, Tri-Marine, parent company to our local cannery Samoa Tuna Processors, petitioned NMFS to promulgate a rule that would exempt U.S. flagged purse seine vessels from any high seas fishing day limits if they deliver at least 50 percent of their catch to tuna processing facilities in American Samoa. A year and a half later, NMFS has yet to issue a final rule that would free up U.S. purse seine vessel fishing days and in turn increase the delivery of tuna to American Samoa.
Mr. President-elect, our special status must be utilized. NMFS has not yet agreed to help our Territory with this issue. We urgently ask for help in pressing this issue so that our tuna industry survives and we avoid economic stagnation.
The minimum wage remains a very important issue for American Samoa. The American Samoa tuna industry relies on being competitive and this includes the cost of labor. We ask for support on legislation that will exclude American Samoa from the national minimum wage law and establish a more suitable procedure for the assessment of wages that takes into account American Samoa’s unique economy and circumstances.
Trade protection is essential in keeping our canneries open and competitive. Canned tuna shipped from our territory to the American market is done so on a duty-free basis. If this competitive advantage is lost our canneries will soon follow. We understand that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is currently at a standstill during this lame duck session of Congress. Going forward we implore you to protect our tuna industry by vetoing any legislation that would nullify our duty-free advantage.
Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for taking time to review these issues which are of great importance to American Samoa. You have spoken repeatedly and with passion about your desire to make an immediate impact on people’s lives when you accede to the highest office in the land. We feel the issue of the National Monuments gives you that ability to demonstrate your commitment by freeing up the fishing grounds necessary to preserve jobs in American Samoa.
We certainly hope you will find time to come visit us in the future. We wish you well and we want you to please know that you go with our blessings as you embark upon one of most difficult challenges any person could ever undertake.