Pacific Islands Still Not Getting Full Benefit Of Fisheries Resources

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Forum meeting told more economic benefits should come from tuna

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 10, 2015) – The Pacific Islands and its people are still not catching the economic benefits they hoped for from the region’s significant tuna resource.

That’s the word from Forum Fisheries Ministerial group chairman Elisala Pita who presented a "roadmap" for sustainable fisheries in the region to leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum on Tuesday (CI time).

"Our inshore fisheries – vital for the food security of our coastal communities – are threatened by overfishing and, in the longer term, the effects of ocean acidification and climate change," said Pita.

"Most of our tuna is still being caught by foreign vessels, and 90 per cent is taken out of the region for processing."

And in the Cook Islands, all purse seine fishing vessels are owned by foreign companies, with 100 per cent of the catch taken out of the country for processing. For 2015 the Cook Islands has 1,250 fishing days which has been used to provide access to the US tuna fishing fleet, two Korean-Kiribati joint venture companies and a New Zealand company.

Minister of Finance Mark Brown has said the Cook Islands’ is expected to collect over $12 million in fishing licence fees this financial year.

There have been talks of an onshore fish processing plant on Rarotonga, but these has never come to anything. In 2013 a Chinese-owned onshore fish processing plant planned to be built on Rarotonga was declined approval by the Cook Islands Business Trade and Investment Board. Prime Minister Henry Puna and Marine Resources secretary Ben Ponia are representing the Cook Islands at the Forum – and they have both made known their support for purse seine fishing in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone.

Pita told leaders the solution to help keep fishing revenue at home would be increasing community management, with countries like the Cook Islands establishing control through systems of zone-based rights.

The roadmap also proposes possible employment growth by requiring foreign vessels to employ Pacific staff, and promote onshore processing.

CI News understands the Forum leaders took the roadmap to their leaders retreat yesterday. The Forum closes with the 27th Post-Forum Dialogue Partners Meeting tomorrow.

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