Cook Islands Opposition Leader Critical Of EU Fishing Deal

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

Heather: Government ‘compromising livelihood of future generations’

By Rashneel Kumar

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, March 17, 2016) – Opposition leader William (Smiley) Heather has accused the Henry Puna-led Cook Islands Party Government of compromising the livelihood of future generations of Cook Islanders by supporting the controversial European Union (EU) fishing deal.

His comments follow cabinet members on Tuesday giving their support to Prime Minister Puna to proceed with the fisheries agreement with the EU.

A government statement said the support from the cabinet followed consultations by Puna, who is also the minister of Marine Resources, and his delegation in the northern group islands earlier this month.

But Heather said with outright manipulations and distortions from the truth, government had turned their expensive northern trip into what they claimed was majority support for the EU agreement on purse seine licences.

"They discount and ignore the anti-purse seine petition and the well-reasoned opposition to their money-making plans. They ignore conservation alarm bells. They ignore the pleas to think of future generations," Heather said in a statement.

"They are supported by the Secretary of Marine Resources (Ben Ponia), each leaning on the other for validation of their clever manipulations. Is it any wonder cabinet supports the deal?

"There is no doubt this is what they intended from the outset, and the rest is window dressing to persuade, to influence, to pay off those up north willing to sell their votes and voices for money."

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) with the EU is worth $9.6 million and will give access to Cook Islands waters to four EU purse seiners to fish up to 7000 tonnes of tuna annually.

"Ponia claims the EU agreement will be worth $9.6 million," Heather said. "He says $2.5 million of this will go to ‘marine sector policy support.’ Surely this can’t mean yet more handouts to the Prime Minister’s friends up north. But I fear it might. There is a never-ending conveyor belt, taking ever more of our tax revenues for a selected few of the Prime Minister’s friends and supporters.

"The fish in our waters belong to the Cook Islands people and must be spent properly for the welfare and benefit of the people."

Heather said cabinet’s support for PM to proceed with the EU fisheries deal had come in the same week that a report on the value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Pacific tuna fisheries was released.

Prepared by marine consultant company MRAG Pacific, the 100-page report suggested that IUU fishing took between 276,000 and 338,000 tonnes of tuna worth $616 million between 2010 and 2015.

"The report found that the volume of IUU product was highest in the purse seine industry, accounting for around three quarters of it," Heather said.

"The report estimates about 33 per cent of the IUU catch consisted of skipjack tuna, the very species the CIP government and MMR intend allocating to the Spanish fleet and which they claim is not at risk.

"The report says the estimates were dominated by licenced fishing fleets.

"In other words, the issue concerns not pirates, but fleets licenced by governments in countries like the Cook Islands."

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