Forum Fisheries Agency Expresses Support Of Cook Islands Purse Seine Efforts

Not developing fisheries won't lead to increased conservation of big eye tuna

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Sept. 21, 2016) – The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is highly supportive of the Cook Islands endeavours to increase its participation in the tropical purse seine fishery, according to Deputy Director-General Wez Norris.

“We generally set a fairly high standard when we consider development proposals in terms of assessing those proposals against international legal obligations, sustainability qualifications, the capacity and institutional set up of the management agency and the nature of benefits that are likely to flow to the country,” he said.

According to the FFA: “Forgoing a purse-seine fishery would not contribute significantly to the conservation of bigeye tuna and, in fact, Cook Islands best prospects to influence the development of measures to create a sustainable bigeye stock is probably to do so as a participant to the fishery.”

Norris highlighted the FFA’s position when consulted by the Purse Seine Special Select Committee via Skype.  The committee’s report of August 30 was tabled in parliament last week.

The FFA’s submission says the Cooks stand to benefit greatly from its purse-seine fishery, primarily though enhanced government revenues.

The FFA is an intergovernmental agency with about 100 staff whose role is to strengthen national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries.

Norris said two of FFA’s largest programmes are on fisheries management, including assistance with policy and law to ensure member states have the right regulatory environment to create sustainable fisheries.

“Attached to that we have our fisheries development programme which then says what are our opportunities that arise out of having these sustainable fisheries in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and what development can we bring to bear so that we can extract a greater degree of the returns from our fisheries.”

Capacity building, training in monitoring, control and surveillance, and the vessel monitoring system are other key components of FFA support.

Norris says big-eye tuna by-catch and conservation of the stock remains a fundamental issue facing the region.

“Bigeye tuna is now in a status that we call overfished, meaning there’s less fish in the water than we have said that we will be prepared to accept and overfishing is occuring which means it’s still being removed too fast.

“It’s an issue that’s shared between the purse-seine fishery, the longline fishery and a whole range of what we call the small gear fisheries, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines,” he said.

“I think the key message in our submission about that is no one country can fix the bigeye tuna problem.  Where a country like the Cook Islands to cease all purse seine fishing and long line fishing for that matter it would likely have a very negligible impact on the status of bigeye tuna and so it really does come down to collective action … and one of the best ways that Cook Islands can influence that collective action is by being a participant in the fishery and being a beneficiary from the fishery.”

 “Those vessels would still be out there and they would fish elsewhere and in a lot of cases they would probably fish on the high seas where there’s a lot less regulatory control, a lot less monitoring surveillance and so on than they will be subject to if they fish in the Cook Islands.  You are better off being a participant in the fishery, which means you are a beneficiary and you have got a vested interest in trying to influence the way that the wider fishery works.

Norris noted the Cooks is a relatively small player in the region’s purse seine fishery.

An increase of purse-seine fishing in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would be compliant with international law and the relevant conservation and management measures that it is obliged to implement, says the FFA.

It says the effort limits declared by Cook Islands for the purse-seine fishery are reasonable and defensible and that fishing at these levels would not compromise the sustainability of the target species (skipjack and yellowfin tuna).

The FFA notes the Cook Islands has the technical, legal and enforcement capacity to properly manage an expanded purse-seine fishery.

The Cooks would also have the ability to play a leadership role in research and negotiation of measures for sustainability of by-catch and associated species in the process.

The FFA has two areas of concern with the EU as a fishing partner. The first is that Spanish vessels that would be involved in the SFPA have some history of non-compliance, noting the Cooks has the tools and capability to address this risk. The second is the EU fleet’s high reliance on fish aggregating devices (FADs) and catches more bigeye per set than other fleets.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there are some elements of the operation and behaviour of the Spanish vessels that is exemplary, that is far better than other fleets and I think our submission points to the fact that in terms of their level of catch and effort reporting, it’s a lot more accurate than we see in some of the other fleets.  So I would start off by saying there is good with the bad,” said Norris.

“I would say that of all the FFA members, Cook Islands has one of the best records of detecting and adequately responding to illegal fishing incursions into your EEZ.  In the early years of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 2006 to 2009 there was several high profile cases where Cook Islands did detect illegal fishing and took action and held large companies and large countries to account.  So there’s quite a lot of experience within MMR and within your judicial process for this.”

Norris notes that the 100 per cent observer coverage of purse seiners and the region’s move toward real-time electronic reporting will be of great benefit in integrating monitoring capabilities.

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