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American Samoa Travel Guide

Tuna Canneries

American Samoa's primary industry is tuna processing by the Samoa Packing Co., user of the "Chicken of the Sea" label, and StarKist Samoa. In 2008 Del Monte Foods announced it was selling StarKist to the Dongwon Group of South Korea.

The first cannery opened in 1954, and American Samoa today is one of the world's major tuna processors and the most important commercial fishing port under the U.S. flag (Dutch Harbor, Alaska, is a distant second). Canned fish, canned pet food (from the blood meat), and fish meal (from the skin, guts, and bones) now account for the bulk of the territory's industrial output.

Canneries thrive in this tiny U.S. territory because they allow Asian fishing companies to avoid U.S. import tariffs of up to 35 percent on processed fish. Goods have duty- and quota-free entry to the United States if 30 percent of their value is added in the territory. Federal law prohibits foreign commercial fishing vessels from offloading tuna at U.S. ports; however, American Samoa is exempted. Thus the greater part of the South Pacific tuna catch is landed here, supplying the United States with the bulk of its canned tuna, worth US$500 million a year.

Even with this trade, imports into American Samoa are almost double exports (the biggest imports are manufactured goods, food, and fuel). On a per capita basis, American Samoa's foreign trade is far greater than that of any other South Pacific entity.

Chicken of the Sea logo

Both canneries pay virtually nothing in taxes to the local government and employ 5,000 cheap nonunion workers from independent Samoa, who put in two shifts. American Samoans themselves aren't at all interested in cleaning fish for US$3.60 an hour and instead work in business or government.

Though they make millions on their tuna operations, the canneries have threatened to relocate if the minimum wage is raised or if the workers became unionized (the intimidated cannery workers have voted several times against becoming members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters).

American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are the only U.S. jurisdictions where federal minimum wage legislation doesn't apply. Another looming threat is competition from low-wage canneries in Thailand, which could soon gain access to the U.S. market under the trade agreements. StarKist has announced that it would terminate its Samoan operations in such a case.

The cannieries are supplied by rust-eaten Korean and Taiwanese longline tuna boats and just over a dozen large California purse seiners worth a couple of million dollars apiece. Most of the fish are taken in Papua New Guinea and Federated States of Micronesia waters (the Samoa canneries don't can fish caught by setting nets around dolphins). In aggregate, the canneries contribute about US$25 million a year to the local economy in wages, and spend another US$40 million on support services, fuel, and provisioning.