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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (February 1, 2001 – Cook Islands Television/PINA Nius Online)---The southern Cook Islands can now look forward to greater economic benefits from their marine resources, Marine Resources Secretary Navy Epati said.

Each southern group island fishing club has been allocated NZ$ 22,000 (US$ 9,789) to set up the onshore facilities to process fish caught by their fishermen, he said.

Through the cooperation of Air Rarotonga, the fish will then be flown to Rarotonga, where there has been a shortage, he said.

Fishermen from these islands are keen to participate in adding value to their catch following allocation of funding for the development project, said Epati.

So often a ministry plans projects and then has to look for funding, but in this case, said Epati, he had the funds first. Thus he could enter into project planning with the outer islands with confidence that the projects would be implemented.

"The skepticism I initially received has been overcome due to the fishermen being assured the funds were in hand," said Epati.

"The outer islands have been promised so many things so many times, it's understandable why they are skeptical when it comes to project development on their respective islands," he added.

With Air Rarotonga’s support, the Ministry of Marine Affairs has been able to ensure that a micro fishing project would materialize.

The facilities would ensure that the produce quality is maintained and kept fresh until it is air freighted to Rarotonga for sale.

Once implemented, the fishing clubs will take ownership and be responsible for managing the plant, said Epati.

If they follow the lessons learned by the pawpaw (papaya) growers, they should do well.

"With a shortage of fish on Rarotonga, seafood eaters will welcome a regular supply from the four islands," he said.

Each island now also has fishing aggregating devices (FAD), further helping to ensure a sustainable micro enterprise.

As for Aitutaki, their needs are specific to their island and the ministry is in consultation with the Aitutaki Fishing Club and the Island Council regarding their perceived needs, said Epati.

"We have concentrated on the southern group islands initially because they are more readily serviced by air, (facilitating getting) their product to the market."

Epati concluded by providing information about the Tongareva hatchery and Manihiki laboratory upgradings, fishing aggregating devices (FAD) for outer islands, boat repair, safety and fishing technique workshops, plus the Manihiki pearl virus expenses, which will all receive project development funds this financial year.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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