Cooks Minister: No Extra Fishing Licenses Issued To Foreign Vessels

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‘Exploratory’ licenses in question already capped by regulations

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 13, 2012) – Minister of Marine Resources Teina Bishop says no additional exploratory fishing licenses have been issued to overseas interests.

Budget 2012 contains a projection that 20 "additional" licenses – to be issued this financial year – will generate NZ$2.4 million [US$1.9 million] in revenue for the country.

Cook Islands News reported the fact accordingly, as marine resources regulations cap the number of allowable exploratory licenses at 20.

Opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen asked Bishop in Parliament yesterday whether the ministry intended to issue additional licenses.

"The number of licenses is actually regulated in our regulations," Bishop said. "There are no extra licenses to be issued as per alluded in the Cook Islands News. The 20 licenses that people are talking about today is the exploratory licenses that has been explained over and over again, and out of that 20 only 17 have been issued so far."

Rasmussen asked him to explain ‘exploratory’ in this context, alleging that "the term has made irrelevant the provisions in the Marine Resources Act in relation to fishing, and particular types of fishing, in our waters because of the broadness and uncertainty of what is to be explored out there."

Bishop responded: "The term exploratory is quite simple – it comes from the word explore. You go and have a look. There is only one fishery that we have established and that is the longline on albacore, so what we are exploring is the swordfish and the bigeye. This is a program that has been approved by the public which has been taken to Cabinet."

The third ‘area of exploration’ was meant to be purse seining, but Cabinet has yet to "touch on that," the said. Under the current exploratory regime, 17 Chinese vessels are licensed to fish bigeye and swordfish in Cook Islands waters.

Bishop added that the exploratory fishing program does not contradict marine regulations.

"This exploratory program was brought to Cabinet by our ministry with the help and support of the Forum Fisheries Agency and I believe their interpretation with regards to the Act is in order."

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