ILLEGAL EXPORTS PUT COOK ISLANDS HIGH ON THE "SHAME LIST"

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AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (June 12, 2002 - Cook Islands News/PINA Nius Online)---The Cook Islands is the third biggest purveyor of illegal exports into New Zealand, contributing 13 percent of all unlawful goods seized by the Customs Department from the Pacific Islands region.

The illegal goods are mainly undeclared seafoods and the export of internationally protected giant clam meat (paua), turtle shells and turtle meat.

The extent of Cook Islands offending was revealed during a workshop on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) held in Fiji and attended by Tu Tangi of the Cook Islands Environment Service.

It has prompted Environment Services to enforce a restriction on the amount of paua meat that can be taken out of the country, to between five to 10 kilograms (11 to 22 pounds), says director Vaitoti Tupa. He says the limit has yet to be negotiated with northern island councils.

The Environment Service will also step up its watch on the protection of turtles.

People wanting to take paua meat and shells out of the country must already get a permit from Environment Services, a procedure introduced in November 2001. However, according to Tupa, many people are failing to do this, resulting in confiscation of the goods at Auckland’s airport and a black mark on the Cook Islands.

Giant clams are internationally classified as an endangered species and movement between countries is prohibited unless the exporter obtains a CITES permit.

Turtles are protected under international treaties, but Tupa says the Cook Islands is not party to the treaties.

He says despite an awareness program here warning of hefty fines for anyone caught exporting turtle shells and meat from the Cook Islands, they are still being seized in New Zealand and Australia.

"The Cook Islands is on the list of countries illegally taking endangered species," says Tupa, who admits to being worried about the reputation that the country has acquired.

Working with the island councils in the Northern Group, the Environment Services is looking at restricting the harvesting of giant clams. Tupa says the island councils already have by-laws in place restricting paua harvesting for personal consumption and outlawing sale of the meat.

However, he isn’t sure how strictly the northern island councils follow the by-laws.

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

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

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