RIGHTS TO TUNA AND PEARLS IN COOK ISLANDS STILL OPEN

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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (August 28, 2000 – Cook Islands News)---Exclusive rights to fishing have always been open to local interests, says Marine Resources Minister Dr. Robert Woonton.

"But to date no local applications have come up to my knowledge."

Dr. Woonton sees no problem in an Australian company applying for exclusive rights to tuna stocks. The same opportunity exists for local companies, he said.

"Those rights have always been in existence. There hasn’t been any policy of government to preclude any local interests."

ALARMED

Rumors of the Australian company seeking exclusive rights for 60 years to tuna stocks and pearl farming in Suwarrow Atoll alarmed some local interests earlier this month.

The minister revealed the Australian company as The Rock Lobster Company Ltd. of South Australia.

A check of the Internet yesterday revealed few details about the company, other than it was also interested in finding out more about a Solomon Islands marine company seeking a joint venture partner.

EARLY STAGES

"The deal that they are offering is difficult to refuse," says Dr. Woonton.

He said the proposal was still in its very early stages yet, with background checks and firmer details needed before government goes to the next step.

"We’re still awaiting more details from the developers before we can make any comment."

Woonton said that government would be mindful of environmental concerns when it came to the question of Suwarrow. However, he did not say whether further input would be welcome from environmental groups.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT (EIA)

An existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on pearl farming Suwarrow has been criticized as being flawed. But Minister Woonton said the EIA "at least gives us some indication of the capability of Suwarrow and how best to use it."

Environment groups can make representations to the ministry, he said. "But then there are conflicting stories and perceptions about what Suwarrow should be and if the country fully understands the benefits of development in not just the northern group but the southern group as well I think they will be in favor of some type of development."

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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