PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — American Samoa is celebrating the 50th birthday of a tuna cannery that Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says marked the U.S. territory’s “shift to a modern economy.”
Pittsburgh-based StarKist Co. opened the cannery in 1963. At the time, most people in American Samoa lived off the land by fishing and farming.
Today, StarKist Samoa — which was bought by South Korea’s Dongwon Industries in 2008 — employs nearly half of the territory’s private sector workforce.
It exports 6,000 containers of cargo annually to the U.S. and 500 containers to Australia and Southeast Asia.
“StarKist Samoa has become the single largest producing tuna cannery in the world,” said Moliga.
Local government and traditional leaders plan to attend a ceremony for the anniversary on Saturday, which Moliga has declared “StarKist Samoa Day.”
Dongwon Chairman Jaechul Kim, StarKist CEO Sam Hwi Lee and other top Dongwan and StarKist officials traveled to American Samoa for the celebration, which will include singing by cannery workers and traditional dance.
The governor told the delegation in a meeting Thursday he’s working with American Samoa’s delegate to Congress to prevent the territory’s minimum wage from rising to match the rate for the rest of the United States.
The minimum wage in American Samoa varies from $4.18 to $5.59 per hour, depending on the industry.
A 2007 law instituted annual 50-cents increases until the rate matched the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Implementation of this law was frozen, however, until 2015.
The territory’s other cannery, Chicken of the Sea, cited the law when it closed in 2009, costing the jobs of more than 2,000 employees. StarKist cited the law when it decided to lay off 800 workers the following year.
The governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo J. Pereira, said the Moliga was working to address the issue now and was not waiting until the moratorium expires in two years.
Moliga has asked territorial Department of Commerce officials to gather data to support his position that the federal minimum wage shouldn’t be applied in American Samoa, Pereira said.
Chicken of the Sea has since been taken over by Tri Marine International, of Bellevue, Wash., which plans to start construction at the plant later this year.