Cook Islands Environmental Group Upset PM Has Signed EU Fisheries Deal

Court case challenging agreement should have been resolved first: Te Ipukarea Society

By Rashneel Kumar 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Oct. 18, 2016) – Local environmental group Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) is disappointed with government’s decision to sign the European Union (EU) fisheries partnership agreement despite a legal challenge against the deal pending in court.

Prime Minister and Marine Resources (MMR) minister Henry Puna signed the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) between the European Union and the Cook Islands on Friday last week after meeting with Solicitor General David James and Marine Resources secretary Ben Ponia.

In a statement, MMR said that under the partnership, the Cook Islands will receive $9.6 million over a four-year period in return for providing access to four European-flagged purse seine fishing vessels.

MMR said these vessels would target the migratory and abundant skipjack tuna.

The agreement, the statement said, included a protocol to fish up to 7000 tonnes a year – around 156 fishing days or 12 per cent of the Cook Islands’ 1250 fishing day quota set by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

MMR said the financial returns of the SFPA exceeded other bilateral arrangements, including the US Fisheries Treaty package. 

However, Passfield said government should have waited for the hearing of the case challenging the agreement before finalising the deal.

Traditional leaders and TIS have launched a legal bid with the Cook Islands High Court, requesting a judicial review on the controversial EU deal.

Crown Law had requested that the application for a judicial review on the fishing deal with the EU be struck out, but the request was declined by the High Court.

The full hearing of this case is expected in March next year.

“We are disappointed the government didn’t wait to see the result of the court case and went ahead with the signing of the deal despite the level of opposition from the public,” Passfield said.

“We also made sure that the Solicitor General was well aware of the risks in signing the agreement due to the legality of the agreement being before the court.”

Passfield also said the purse seine select committee which presented its findings to Parliament on the issue was biased, favouring government’s views on the EU deal.

“There is a faction within the government that sees the fault in the initial agreement and some areas that need to be improved on.”

“We want to see what really has changed in the agreement. Is it the same as the initial one or there have been some changes made to it?

“If there have been changes, what exactly are they? The public needs to see the revised agreement before it’s signed.”

The council of the European Union reportedly ratified the controversial agreement in May this year but the prime minister indicated the final decision on the deal would be made after the release of the purse seine select committee’s report.

The committee, which included members from the government and opposition, was tasked to look into the anti-purse seining petition which wanted a ban on any future licenses.

Following the signing of the deal, Ponia said his ministry was now preparing to move forward with implementation of the partnership. 

The MMR statement added the SFPA provided for MMR to partner with the Spanish purse seine industry and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on a fisheries improvement plan that aimed to have tuna catches sustainably certified under the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation processes.

In addition, MMR said it would receive $2.5 million to support the fisheries sector.

The ministery intended to invest the money in initiatives such as a modern fisheries surveillance facility and subsidies for local fishermen. 

“The fishing opportunities to be granted by the SFPA are based on the best available scientific advice, in line with the conservation and management measures of the WCPFC,” the statement said.

“MMR remains committed to best practice precautionary management of stocks in our exclusive economic zone through its mandate under the Marine Resources Act 2005 to ensure stocks remain healthy and to maximise the ecological and economic benefit in the long term for the people of the Cook Islands.”

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