Purse seine issue still big concern in Cook Islands says TIS

Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) is concerned with what it sees as the Cook Islands Government’s lack of transparency over the issuing of fishing licences.

TIS which has been voicing concern over the purse seine fishing issue for most of the year, has presented an anti-purse seine fishing petition to Parliament bearing 4000-plus signatures.

The organisation’s technical advisor, Kelvin Passfield says TIS is concerned that, in spite of the voting public asking for a ban on purse seining, government has since issued licences to at least two additional fishing companies to fish in Cook Islands waters.

He says this has been done without any disclosure to the public.

Cook Islands News sent an email to the Ministry of Marine Resources secretary Ben Ponia last week, asking questions about the additional fishing licences, but has yet to receive a response.

And Clerk of Parliament, John Tangi, could not be reached for an update on the petition as he was out of the country. He was expected to return to Rarotonga this week. 

However, in June, CI News reported that Murienua MP James Beer would table the petition in parliament once Tangi and his team had checked the credibility of the petition and the signatures, and once the Speaker of the House had sanctioned it.

Beer said he would ensure all the views and concerns of the campaign were properly dealt with in parliament.

Passfield says TIS believes the issuing of licences to two additional fishing companies is in direct contravention of the Marine Resources Act 2005.

“This is because purse seine fishing using FADs (Fishing Aggregate Devices) is contributing to the over-exploitation of bigeye tuna stocks.”

The Act, Passfield says, says that the secretary or minister as appropriate should make decisions based on the best scientific evidence available and be designed to maintain or restore target stocks at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield and as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors.

He says the Act also states a precautionary approach should be applied and that the impacts of fishing on non-target species and the marine environment should be minimised while making decisions regarding issuing of the fishing licences.

The issue of extra licences being issued came to Passfield’s attention after Ponia did a television interview on Mangaia where he had traveled to present his side of the purse seine fishing issue to island residents.    

“In that interview he was asked about purse seine boats licenced to fish in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone,” Passfield said.

“He responded that a US fleet, Korean companies, and a New Zealand company, were all licenced for purse seining in the Cook Islands.  

“This is particularly worrying because up until Ponia’s interview, the public had only been told about the 40 boats in the US purse seine fleet, the involvement of Korean company Silla, and the intention of future negotiations with the European Union. 

“Now we hear about Korean companies and a New Zealand company. When did these come into the picture and who are these companies? 

“How many boats are there and how many fishing days have been granted to these additional boats? 

“Are they allowed to use FADs, and was there any public consultation on these additional licences?”

There are strong opinions on both sides of the purse seine fishing debate, with Finance Minister Mark Brown saying earlier this year that banning purse seining in the Cook Islands was not the solution.

He said the country was expected to collect over $12 million in fishing licence fees in this financial year and added that banning purse seining would mean giving away that revenue to neighbouring countries.