Washington state company to open tuna cannery in American Samoa that's likely to employ 1,500

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — A Washington state company is making a $70 million investment in a tuna cannery in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

The canned tuna products from American Samoa will carry the "Made In USA" label, said officials with Tri Marine International. Based in Bellevue, Washington, Tri Marine took over the lease of a government property three years ago after another cannery closed.

Tri Marine's cannery plant is expected to employ some 1,500 workers when fully operational and is operated by the company's Samoa Tuna Process Inc., located on seaside village of Atu'u. American Samoa's economy is dependent on the tuna cannery industry.

"We are $70 million confident of our investment in the cannery project," Tri Marine Chief Executive Officer Renato Curto said.

"Ultimately, our decision to invest came down to our belief that tuna is a good, nutritious product, that tuna stocks can be sustainably managed for the long-term and that processing in the islands is the right thing to do," he said.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the territorial government stands firm in its support of Tri Marine, especially on this latest investment that will boost the local economy and provide more jobs to residents looking for work.

The investment will allow the company to "remain competitive in this very competitive global industry," Moliga said.

Outgoing chamber of commerce chairman Lewis Wolman said that besides the large workforce, the new cannery will have direct impacts like buying products from local vendors and supporting the shipping industry. But it will also have significant indirect impacts, such as the purchases made by workers from their paychecks.

An inauguration ceremony is planned for Jan. 24.

The new cannery will focus on the U.S. market, where tuna products from American Samoa are duty-free, said Curto, adding that this helps offset the higher cost of processing in the territory as compared with industrialized centers in low-labor-cost countries like Thailand, Philippines and China.

"We are targeting retail and food service clients who want to know where their tuna was caught, who caught it, how it was caught and where it was processed," Curto said.

The company plans to produce private label and its own brand of tuna markets. The brand is made by Tri Marine subsidiary, The Tuna Store, and it is already on shelves under the name Ocean Naturals.

In additional to the new cannery, Tri Marine's Samoa Tuna Processor Inc., a cold storage facility, opened last year. The facility can receive fish directly from the fishing boats. Curto said catch from the boats can be sized and separated by species before being processed by local plant or exported as whole fish.

Tri Marine also owns a fleet of 10 U.S.-flagged purse seiners based in Pago Pago to supply tuna to the cannery, he said. Curto said the company has invested well over $200 million in American Samoa between its fleet and facilities.

There have been some concerns by a few American Samoa officials that Tri Marine's new cannery will compete with the company's SolTuna Inc. cannery operation in the Solomon Islands, a South Pacific country with a land mass of 11,000 square miles.

But Curto said SolTuna, which is a partnership between Tri Marine and the Solomon Islands government, produces products for other markets, which includes the South Pacific region and Europe where products from Solomon Islands have duty-free access.

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