Cook Islands Marine Resources Ministry Accused Of Backing Away From Commitments

Traditional leaders, Te Ipukarea Society say MMR promised a 50 nautical miles buffer around islands, no advocate 24 miles zone

By Florence Syme-Buchanan 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 10, 2017) – Traditional leaders and Te Ipukarea Society believe the Ministry of Marine Resources is contradicting a commitment made by the government to the Cook Islands to establish a 50 nautical mile buffer zone around each island, and they’re not happy about it.

The feeling is that MMR is placing the interests of foreign commercial fishing entities ahead of the Cook Islands people, who regard the ocean as a prime food source.

MMR is now advocating a 24 nautical mile buffer zone, rather than the 50nm that Cabinet agreed to in April 2014 and which MMR minister and prime minister Henry Puna has since been promoting at international meetings, including the Small Island States.

Commercial fishing boats are not permitted within the zones.

Currently longliners more than 10 metres long have to fish more than 12 nm away from all islands except Rarotonga, where these boats are required to maintain a minimum distance of 24 nm. Similarly, purse seiners have to fish at least 24 nm away from each island in the group, except for Rarotonga where a 48 nm buffer zone exists.

Traditional leaders and Te Ipukarea Society say MMR is ignoring the commitment made by Cabinet ministers and the prime minister to have a protected area of 50nm, or 92 kilometres.

Aronga mana had wanted a 100nm protected area established and made these views known at a meeting with Marae Moana and MMR representatives late last year.

Manavaroa Mataiapo Phillip Nicholas says MMR’s most recent zone strategy again goes against what “the people of the Cook Islands want and what is good for the people of this country”.

TIS director Kelvin Passfield says Saturday’s headline stating MMR supports an increase in buffer zones is misleading.

“What it should say is MMR does not support the Marae Moana  recommendation and what has been committed to by Cabinet,  to have 50nm zone buffers, but is willing to increase the existing 12nm buffer from 12nm to just 24nm.”

Passfield says during the Marae Moana outer-island consultations, 80 per cent of those surveyed wanted an increase in buffer zones. “Most people talked to actually want the 100nm, or total closure to foreign boats.”

He added that MMR needed to be reminded that based on what people had asked for, in 2014 the PM Henry Puna, promised in a speech delivered by his Chief of Staff at an international conference in the United States that there will be a 50nm zone, not 24nm. 

“If we increased buffer zones to 50nm, that would still leave more than 80 per cent of our EEZ still open to foreign fishing vessels.” 

 “I have spoken to several Cabinet ministers over the past two years, and they told me they supported 50 nautical mile zones.”

Passfield is confident that despite MMRs lobbying to Cabinet for a 24nm zone, Cabinet ministers will remain committed and “will continue to support the people of the Cook Islands by agreeing to a 50 nautical mile buffer zone.”

While a 50 nm protection zone would apply to all commercial fishing boats, MMR secretary Ben Ponia is advocating a different set of rules for European Union purse seiners. At a recent public meeting with EU representatives, Ponia presented a buffer zone of 50km that would apply to the Spanish and French purse seiners. This converts to just 26.9nm.

Cook Islands News
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