Cook Islands Has Tools To Monitor Fishery: Minister

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Ponia: Illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing in EEZ, ‘very rare’

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 2, 2015) – The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) says it has the tools to monitor the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific waters.

Speaking during a public presentation on ISSF (International Seafood Sustainability Foundation) Initiatives on Tuna Fisheries Management last Wednesday night in Parekura, MMR secretary Ben Ponia said it was a "very rare occasion" that the vessel without a licence would enter the region.

Questions were raised by a handful of members of the public who turned up to the presentation, as to whether MMR was equipped well enough to monitor the fishing vessels entering the surrounding waters.

"To be honest, in all these years we have never picked up a vessel that is not licensed, actually fishing in the region," Ponia told the public.

"So all vessels that we have been picking up are all licensed by some registry. It’s a very, very rare occasion that a vessel actually comes into the Pacific and does not have a licence."

MMR acting director Andrew Jones echoed Ponia’s sentiments and said in their experience, the IUU cases were mostly vessels that were not licenced in the region. In reply to a question raised on the criteria for issuing licences to fishing vessels, Ponia said MMR had criteria in place.

In order for a fishing vessel to actually be allowed in Pacific, it must first be a registered member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), he said. The vessel must fish inside the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries and must also apply to the FFA registry, he added.

"What we do, is first we go back to FFA registry and make sure the vessel is registered in the there. The FFA registry will then check if it’s on the WCPFC registry.

"So all this vetting takes place before we actually give out the licence."

Two of the three vessels that were found to have breached Cook Islands boundaries had been prosecuted, Jones said.

The issue of purse seine fishing using fish aggregating devices (FADs) was also debated.A four-month ban on purse seine vessel’s setting FADs in Cook Islands waters starts in July.

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