Another Anti-Purse Seining Protest To Take Place In Cooks

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

Environmentalists, public continue to oppose deal with EU

By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, April 12, 2016) – Hundreds of people are expected to take to the Avarua main road this Friday to protest the government entering into a purse seining agreement with the European Union and demonstrate opposition to the widely unpopular commercial fishing method in Cook Islands waters.

The march is set to start at 4.30 pm to allow public servants to take part and organisers ask that people unhappy with the government’s actions on the issue gather at the car park opposite the Justice Department.

Friday’s event will be the third anti-purse seining protest march held on Rarotonga. Grey Power and the Democratic/One Cook Islands coalition opposition are vowing to throw their weight behind the demonstration, as is Te Ipukarea Society.

In addition, it’s understood the Aronga Mana of Te Au O Tonga, who have championed a High Court application for a judicial review of the controversial EU fishing agreement, will also support the march.

Environmental group TIS which has long retained its position of condemning the "destructive" use of FADs in purse seining will also be using its local and international network to spread word about the protest march.

"We’ve made our position very clear to government and will be there in support," says TIS technical manager Kelvin Passfield.

"Government is worried they’ve got to this stage of almost finalising the agreement and there’s so much opposition to it despite what they say about northern group support."

Passfield says northern group opposition to purse seining is very evident on social media. From the outset TIS and the coalition opposition have criticised the Sustainable Fishing Partnership Agreement as being flawed and favouring the EU and their purse seining fleets. They believe the agreement undermines the sovereignty of the country to make decisions regarding its most valuable resource- its fisheries.

The first protest march was held in April 2015 and attracted about 500 people. The inaugural event received widespread regional media coverage. In July the same year, the anti-purse seining petition signed by 4100 Cook Islanders of voting age was presented to Parliament.

Another protest march in November supported by about 400 people has also failed to move prime minister and MMR minister Henry Puna and cabinet. Just recently cabinet endorsed the controversial agreement that is gaining in unpopularity here. That Puna won’t be in the country when the protest march is staged doesn’t faze organisers, who say a public march shouldn’t be dictated by the PM’s frequent overseas travel.

An organiser who didn’t want to named due to being a public servant told CINews the PM has failed to front up and talk to protestors in the past.

"He even shied away from the first Grey Power protests and sent Richard Neves (former financial secretary) to talk to them. Even at parliament (presenting the petition), he let others do the talking".

Deputy opposition leader Tamaiva Tuavera says no one has the right to intimidate public servants from participating in the march that’s to be held outside of their working hours. His comments follow allegations that some public servants were warned by senior officers against joining the first protest march.

Before the first protest march last year comments were widespread on social media that public servants had been warned not to take part.

"Everyone has the absolute right under the Cook Islands constitution to make their views known and join the march," says Tuavera.

"People are angry that government hasn’t addressed the anti-purse seining petition, for 12 months it has sat in Parliament gathering dust because Puna is too cowardly to call Parliament to deal with it and other outstanding issues of the nation."

He says the government keeps ignoring the wishes of the people and now the people are saying again in a third protest march, "we’ve had enough."

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