American Samoa has been an inspiration to marine conservationists. The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa has proven that coral reef recovery works. President Biden’s legacy on land and marine recovery prompted American Samoa to be included in a recent presidential memorandum. Without the consensus of American Samoan residents, American Samoa was mentioned as a new marine sanctuary site in the 2023 memorandum. The nomination of American Samoa as a new marine sanctuary was the result of the lobbying efforts of the Hawaiian-based Pacific Islands Remote Coalition for Conservation. The result prompted the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) to conduct a sanctuary survey that was concluded in April 2023. The NOAA suggested the limit of 200 nautical miles off the coastline of American Samoa to be sanctioned. The 200 nautical miles would encompass all of the US Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ), limiting all large fishing vessels within the US EEZ.
In 2002 the NOAA began implementing a large vessel restriction of 50 nautical miles from the coast of American Samoa as a safety obligation. This restriction caused concerns for American Samoan citizens working in the tuna industry. In American Samoa, the tuna industry is the largest private employer and the second largest industry. Years after the restriction was implemented, different pieces of legislation passed by the United States government have proven to impact the tuna industry negatively.
In September 2009, the COS Samoan Packing tuna cannery closed. This tuna cannery was the second-largest tuna packing company in American Samoa. The company claimed the layoffs were due to the federal wage law of 2007, which would have made tuna cannery production in American Samoa unaffordable in the long term. Over 2,000 American Samoans lost employment due to the COS Samoan Packing closure. Another 800 American Samoans lost employment with StarKist tuna packing company. StarKist Tuna also claimed that the federal wage law affected their decision. This would mean that in just 2009, more than 5 percent of American Samoa’s total population of 55,366 lost employment as a direct result of the tuna fish cannery closing.
Today, the largest private employer in American Samoa is StarKist. StarKist employs around 5,000 American Samoans out of the current population of 43,893. The company produces as much as 80% of the revenue for the territory, providing funds for infrastructure improvements along with economic autonomy. Access to StarKist ships also creates a lower cost of living in American Samoa by providing lower shipping costs for imported commodities. StarKist also provides livelihoods to other citizens through its byproducts. The StarKist community members have developed a sense of pride and culture around providing shipments primarily to the United States. StarKist will face continuing expenses if Biden accepts the NOAA recommendations. Will this challenge StarKist tuna cannery’s revenue stream and incentives to avoid closure? As history has shown, the future of StarKist tuna cannery is uncertain. The current governor of American Samoa and former employee of StarKist, Lemanu P.S. Mauga, has expressed concern and wrote a letter to President Biden requesting the NOAA recommendations be reconsidered. In July 2023, the Biden administration announced the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in American Samoa. The law provides $65 billion for improving internet accessibility and affordability, which could help American Samoan citizens seek employment. The Infrastructure Law also provides investments of $134.1 million towards infrastructure in multiple industries, which could create jobs and boost employment.