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Op-Ed: Response to “Island Voices” on Am Samoa fisheries

In a recent “Island Voices” column that appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, several inaccuracies and presumptions were made about American Samoa and its economy (“American Samoa deserves to thrive as fishing shifts,” April 28). The authors made those statements in support of an initiative to permanently close the last remaining U.S. waters in the central equatorial Pacific to commercial fishing. As an indigenous Samoan and resident of American Samoa, I am compelled to respond.

At the outset, the commentary showed a lack of understanding of the 70-year-old tuna fishing and processing industry in American Samoa. For example, it was claimed that the territory once had four canneries operating simultaneously. The truth is that at its peak, American Samoa hosted two major canneries, which have played a significant role in our economy by providing food security, jobs and supporting local livelihoods.

Today, only StarKist Samoa is still in business, providing more than 70% of the territory’s private employment and is our main economic driver. In addition to a variety of different tuna products, StarKist provides canned tuna for the U.S. School Lunch Program and U.S. military.

The column’s authors claimed that American Samoa is better off without a cannery in order to promote a politically motivated conservation agenda. Shame on them for speaking about our future with such callousness and disregard for our people.

We are charting our own economic future, informed by our unique cultural context and the needs of our community. Like other Pacific island countries in the region, tuna fishing and processing is a key component of our economy. The local cannery depends on tuna landings by U.S.-flagged purse seine and longline vessels.

Suggesting that eliminating our main private industry in favor of expanding unnecessary marine protected areas displays a sadistic eco-colonial intent.

The U.S. Pacific Remote Islands, including the waters surrounding American Samoa, are indeed critical to the U.S. commercial fishing fleet that supplies our local cannery. The tuna resources in these waters are managed under rigorous scientific guidelines, ensuring they are not overfished. Reliable data from numerous scientific studies (NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center) confirm that current fishing practices are sustainable.

This is besides the fact that the U.S. fishing fleet that supplies the cannery is the most regulated fleet in the world.

Contrary to the assertions made, closing these waters and overlaying an additional layer of federal agency bureaucracy in the form of a national marine sanctuary is not necessary or effective in protecting these marine resources, especially highly migratory species like tuna.

The coral reef areas and other more vulnerable habitats are already protected from 0- 50 nautical miles around these two remaining areas — Howland/ Baker Islands and Palmyra Atoll/ Kingman Reef. All U.S. waters (0- 200 miles) are closed to commercial fishing around Johnston, Jarvis and Wake islands.

Furthermore, the advocacy for sanctuary expansion at the expense of American Samoa by individuals who have never lived here and lack firsthand experience of our Fa’a-Samoa way of life is not just misguided, but also deeply patronizing.

It reflects a broader issue of external entities attempting to impose their views and policies on our community without genuine engagement or understanding. This approach is not only disrespectful but also undermines our culture and right to self-determination.

American Samoa and its people are best positioned to make decisions about our economic and environmental policies. We are the stewards of our own natural resources, and we have a vested interest in ensuring our health and sustainability for future generations.

The contributions from those outside our community should be supportive and respectful of our autonomy, not prescriptive and dismissive of our capabilities.


Archie Solia’i, a former chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, is the director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources in American Samoa.