Plans To Increase Purse Seine Fishing In Cooks Sees Opposition

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Public hearings show ‘no support’ for increasing fishing days

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, March 18, 2015) – The public has come out swinging against plans to allocate more fishing days to international purse seine vessels in Cook Islands, calling for negotiations to halt until their concerns have been addressed.

The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) held a public meeting on Monday night at the New Hope Conference centre to make presentations on the development of the country’s purse seine fishing industry.

More than 40 people attended the meeting, organised following the recent announcement by MMR that Cabinet had granted approval to undertake a second round of negotiations to assign the remainder of the 1,250 purse seine fishing allocations for 2015.

Most, including members of the Koutu Nui, representatives of the Pa Enua, local fishing charter companies such as Seafari and Marlin Queen and environmental groups, spoke out against the plans. Prime Minister Henry Puna, who also holds the Fisheries portfolio was unable to attend.

The Ministry has already signed a deal with Korean fishing company Silla Co for 400 days of purse seine fishing in Cook Islands waters.

The meeting heard presentations from MMR staff and Secretary Ben Ponia, who explained the development and science behind purse seining and also discussed compliance issue.

They questioned the amount of by-catch collected by the vessels, and whether the fish were being left to reach an optimal breeding age before being caught.

MMR staff said purse seining vessels were required to record their catch data, but this information was not given to the Ministry until the end of a voyage which could take up to three months.

They said there was a push in the Pacific region for data to be collected daily to allow for more accurate information.

MMR has also said the growth of purse seining in the region could see a boost to the local economy by way of a fish processing plant on Rarotonga.

However no international companies have so far made any proposals or plans to actually construct a plant.

Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) director Kelvin Passfield said after the meeting that his organisation was particularly concerned about the purse seining vessels’ use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) something which was known to contribute to unsustainable fishing practices.

TIS was seriously considering launching a petition against purse seining in a bid to halt all fishing negations and to persuade the government not to allocate any future fishing days, he said.

The public meeting seemed to be an after-thought, as MMR had already been given approval by cabinet to negotiate with fishing companies over fishing day allocations and did not need to provide any public consultations, he said.

"They are selling our future for a quick buck," said Passfield.

"There was no support for purse seining at the meeting – we can’t be complacent on this because they have proved in the past that they just go ahead and do what they want."

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