Cook Islands Fishing By-Catch Dumping Reportedly On The Rise

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Marine ministry says legislation ‘already in place’ to stop dumping

By Calida Smylie

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 25, 2012) – A local commercial fisherman believes the level of fish by-catch dumping is escalating in Cook Islands waters.

The man, who posted a concerned comment on Te Ipukarea Society’s Facebook page, said one of his biggest concerns is the "blatant" dumping of fish, which he said is an escalating problem due to the increased vessel licenses being granted by the government.

His commercial fishing boat’s capacity is 80 metric tons and on an average trip, when targeting albacore tuna, he can expect 20 to 30 metric tons of by-catch. This is cut on board and delivered to Rarotonga for local sales.

He said this is not the case for many commercial fishing vessels. Under current regulations, vessels are allowed to land only albacore.

"This is blatant raping and pillaging of the resource," said the fisherman. "From my 35-odd years of fishing and more recently 11 years fishing in the Cook Islands zone, I know when targeting albacore, it is impossible not to catch other species."

Many vessels dump their by-catch, including other tuna species, to make room for the higher-valued albacore catch. The current market price for albacore is US$3,650 per metric ton, whereas yellowfin tuna reaches US$1,900 and big-eye only gets US$1,650.

The fisherman said the problem needs urgent attention and the best way to do so is to introduce legislation banning by-catch dumping.

"It is easy enough to identify the offenders, just look at their past catch logs and see what they have been landing. It will be very obvious that if they are not reporting by-catch and landing 100 percent albacore, then for sure they are exploiting the resource and dumping fish," he commented.

Marine Resources secretary Ben Ponia told Cook Islands News there is already legislation in place to prevent by-catch dumping. These are within long-line regulations, licensing regulations and special conditions of fishing licenses in the Marine Resources Act, according to Ponia.

"Dumping of fish – discards – is prohibited and only allowed under certain circumstances. The issue of discards has been addressed at a regional level through the Tuna Commission processes," Ponia said. "It is easy to police this and the fleets are well aware of it," he added.

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