7th February 2012. It is obvious that the people of the Cook Islands are very concerned about possible overfishing of our tuna and associated impacts on other marine life and our environment. These concerns have been expressed in local media and at public meetings. Petitions were also signed in the northern group islands.
TIS raised the issue of purse seine fishing at our National Economic Summit and through our campaign “Te Ki o to Tatou Moana ei Angai rai ia Tatou” (Our ocean of fish is for the sustenance & nourishment of our people). We note that government has not approved the issuance of licenses for exploratory purse seine fishing following the proposal by the Ministry of Marine Resources.
However, the government has approved the issuance of exploratory long-line fishing licenses. TIS members are deeply disappointed that the Ministry of Marine Resources has not responded to our questions regarding provisions to protect sharks, whether the trans-shipment of tuna is allowed and why there is only 5% observer coverage under the exploratory licenses issued.
MMR say the exploratory licences are so we can collect accurate data. This will not be possible under the lax conditions of these exploratory licences. We should be thinking more along the lines of the regional fisheries commission for Antarctic waters, which requires 2 observers on every boat with an exploratory fishing licence. That is the way to get reliable data.
We are also disappointed that the Ministry of Marine Resources has not called meetings with us, as agreed, to share information about measures to ensure fishing is done sustainably. We have learnt too, that under current legislation, exploratory fishing is exempt from many ordinary requirements to protect our marine life.
Fishing is important in the Pacific. It is as important as life itself.
The world’s oceans are in crisis. With 70% of the fish stock depleted through over-exploitation, international fishing fleets have turned their attention to the Pacific as their source of fish either legally or illegally. Often it is our governments themselves who are the exploiters by accepting short term cash incentives and ignoring the long term catastrophic effects on our people and our ocean.Local tuna fishermen, some who have fished in Rarotonga for over 30 years have reported a steady decline in the number and size of tuna caught around Rarotonga. Some fishermen report this problem in the other islands as well.
Because tuna caught in the Cook Islands makes up only a small percentage of the total catch in the Pacific region (MMR says this is only 0.3%) and because we license only 5% of long-liners licensed in the region, we acknowledge that a significant reason for the reported decline in catch is over-fishing outside the Cook Islands. However, we do believe that despite the Cook Islands relatively small contribution to the problem, we can also be a role model in sustainability. We cannot demand other countries to fish sustainably if we are not doing so ourselves.Tuna is a migratory species and so its management is a regional concern, requiring collaboration between all countries in the Pacific. We would like to see more being done at both the national and regional level to manage this precious resource.