Cook Islands Set To Sign On To Regional Tuna Fishing Limits

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Local regulations to set catch limits under quota system being worked on

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 7, 2014) -- Tuna fishing limits are set to be signed by the Cook Islands – a significant step as a nation with one of the largest fishing areas among Pacific countries.

CINews reported yesterday a historic agreement will see countries like the Cook Islands take more control over swiftly depleting Tuna fishing stocks through the Tokelau Agreement.

Officials from the Pacific Forum Fishery Agency (FFA) countries, meeting in the Solomon Islands, have agreed on the text for a framework for managing the South Pacific longline fishery.

The meeting’s chair and Samoa’s ministry of agriculture and fisheries assistant CEO, Joyce Samuelu Ah Leong, said catch limits will be set.

Cook Islands Ministry for Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia said the text to the Tokelau agreement is now ready for FFA and associate members to sign up to.

"A number of Pacific Island countries have indicated that they are able to sign up to a non-binding commitment as a first step.

"However the proposed pathway for MMR is that we first pass national regulations to put hard limits in place on albacore catches through the quota system - these regulations and new management systems will enable us to make a binding commitment to the Tokelau agreement."

Whilst Pacific Island countries are rallying their EEZ catch limits there will also be a dual proposal to the WCPFC tuna commission to impose an Olympic catch limit covering all EEZs listed in the Tokelau agreement and all high seas fishing grounds, he said.

"When this Olympic catch limit is proposed the Cook Islands will also notify the WCPFC of our national regulations and our binding commitment under the Tokelau agreement."

The WCPFC catch limits are an international obligation and quite a significant commitment as any excess catches could cause the Cook Islands albacore tuna to be blacklisted as illegal IUU catch, he said.

"By committing to the Tokelau and WCPFC albacore catch limits we will be ensuring that there is a sustainable albacore fishery in place.

"This will strengthen our current efforts to have Cook Islands albacore caught by the Luen Thai fleet to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as a ‘sustainably caught’ product."

The Cook Islands has one of the largest albacore fisheries and accordingly has the second largest portion of the catch allocation of 9,698 tonnes or fifteen per cent of the total catch allocation.

Together with the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji we will have a controlling stake of around sixty two per cent of the total catch.

Ponia said they hope to have quota regulations approved before early December when the WCPFC annual meeting takes place.

"Once the regulations are passed we can sign the Tokelau agreement immediately."

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