PAGO PAGO, American Samoa -- As part of a larger preparedness initiative, the Coast Guard and partners conducted a three-day workshop in American Samoa focused on the long line tuna fishing fleet the first week in April.
This event was a collaborative effort between federal and local authorities with the support of the industry. Spearheaded by the U.S. Coast Marine Safety Detachment with Port Administration, the DPS Police Commissioner, Marine Police, Fire Department, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, DMWR Enforcement and the services of Mr. Raymond Medeiros, captain of the U.S, purse seiner Friesland came together to facilitate the event for the fleet.
"Given the increased demand on America’s waterways and the Pacific, we must take a collaborative approach to vital issues like safety and compliance for an industry vital to the economy in American Samoa. The Coast Guard has a small footprint here, but through strong linkages and partnerships we can facilitate, safeguard, and advance maritime commerce while ensuring the safety of our local fleet,” said Frank Thomsen, assistant supervisor, U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment American Samoa.
Thomsen, along with Charlie Medlicott, the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District fishing vessel safety coordinator, focused the workshop on vessel navigation, firefighting, lifesaving, stability, communications, casualty reporting, pollution, and environmental protection and prevention. Following classroom portions, the group conducted drills in firefighting, man overboard, flooding, abandon ship, flare deployment and life embarkation from the water. The effort was in planning for several months coordinating with the fleet to determine when most of the 17 to 20 vessel fleet would be in port to take part. More than 30 fishers participated.
Pago Pago is home to a natural protected deepwater harbor providing one of the best natural shelters anywhere in the Pacific and has excellent maritime facilities and other infrastructure needed to support offshore fishing. While there is a U.S. Coast Guard presence, the marine safety detachment focuses on regulatory enforcement and vessel issues and does not possess the capabilities for water-based rescue or assistance. Any assistance must come from vessels or aircraft in the area at the time of an incident, or from further away — Hawaii and Guam.
"Our vessels go fishing hundreds of miles away from critical and lifesaving services, so in essence, they are their fire department, hospital and damage control,” said Thomsen. “The Pacific is vast, and there are relatively few response options if one of these crews runs into trouble. It’s critical they be proficient mariners, able to respond and in the event of a significant casualty or loss of a vessel, be able to sustain themselves until help can arrive.”
According to NOAA, the role of fishing as a central and organizing force for communities in American Samoa has undergone dramatic changes over the past 50 years or more. The islands’ population has more than tripled over that period, with a steady shift from a largely subsistence-oriented economy to a cash-based economy. Modern fishing took hold initially in the 1970s with subsidies and credit options for vessel purchase. That developed over time and in the early 2000s, bigger, monohulled longline vessels entered the fishery, resulting in greatly increased landings—over 15 million pounds in 2002, compared to under 2 million pounds in 2000. The tuna canneries based in American Samoa are another critical aspect of American Samoa as a fishing community. Begun in 1954 they grew and StarKist Samoa, the largest tuna cannery in the world, produces more than 60 percent of American Samoa’s canned tuna, while Chicken of the Sea produces the remaining 40 percent.
“We are somewhat isolated, but the community in American Samoa is resilient and contributes significantly to the Pacific economy. This workshop enables our fleet’s fishers to continue their work safely and further our positive relationships to see this region succeed,” said Thomsen.