Cooks Place 4 Month Ban On Fish Aggregation Devices

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Part of fishing mortality reduction plan for tuna

By Ben Chapman-Smith

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 31, 2014) – American purse seiners operating in Cook Islands waters have been banned from using fish aggregation devices for a four-month period.

Purse seine fishermen often use floating fish aggregation devices (FADs) in the open ocean to attract multitudes of fish, therefore maximising their catches and boosting efficiency.

The method is controversial because it can increase the by-catch of species like bigeye tuna, which is under threat across the region.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed last year to reduce the overall fishing mortality of bigeye tuna by a combined 30 per cent in the purse seine and longline fisheries.

One measure includes establishing a four-month ban on deploying FADs in the purse seine fishery, which targets skipjack tuna using large nets.

Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia said that ban is now in force in the Cook Islands’ exclusive economic zone.

"The four-month ban is currently in effect. It runs from July to October," he said.

The WCPFC agreement also includes cuts to the big-eye longline fishery but the Cook Islands is exempted because of its status as a small island developing state.

Instead, the Cooks is entitled to develop "aspirational catches", Ponia said.

"Once we begin registering catches with the WCPFC in excess of 2000 tonnes on a regular basis, then we are likely to be included in any measure to reduce catches imposed by the WCPFC."

The amount of bigeye tuna caught in the Cook Islands under a longline exploratory programme in 2012 was 2800 tonnes. The bigeye by-catch in the purse seine fishery was 100 tonnes.

But last year, 500 tonnes of bigeye was caught as by-catch in the longline fishery and 60 tonnes in the purse seine fishery.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) released figures last week showing the number of bigeye in the region has been reduced to less than 20 per cent of what it was before the species was fished.

It said the focus needs to fall on finding ways to prevent catching bigeye in the purse seine fishery.

Although a proposal exists to allow Spanish purse seiners into these waters, currently only US purse seiners operate here.

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