Pacific Islanders Trained As Fisheries Observers For Cook Islands Flagged Trawlers

Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources 
Rarotonga, Cook Islands

June 6, 2017

The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) in collaboration with Sealord Ltd, Orafco (CK) Ltd, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been conducting cross-endorsement training to brief Pacific Island Observers to work aboard Cook Islands flagged high seas trawlers fishing in the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) area.

The training began on May 29 and will end today.

The formation of SIOFA, a new Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) in which the Cook Islands has played an active role in developing integral conservation and management measures to govern fishing activity in the Indian Ocean.

It has meant the expansion of fisheries observer coverage to 100 per cent of all trips undertaken in SIOFA.

In order to develop an Observer Programme working into SIOFA, the Cook Islands has selected top performing observers from the Cook Islands and Pacific Island countries to undertake cross-endorsement training.

This means that, as experienced observers, they are trained in the different rules, methods and reporting requirements extant in SIOFA in order to be certified by MMR to report on the management of Cook Islands interests in the Southern Indian Ocean trawl fishery.

Two Cook Islands-flagged trawl vessels now target orange roughy and alfonsino in the SIOFA area.

The training was delivered at Sealord in Port Nelson, New Zealand, with trainers Graham Patchell, Sealord chief technical officer, and Tim Costelloe, MMR director offshore division.

Topics covered included orientation for working for the Cook Islands and MMR, theoretical and practical orientation for working on a trawler, biological sampling and data collection, learning a new set of species of fish, birds, whales and sharks for effective management of fishing operations, and the management of vulnerable ecosystems and closed areas.

Since 2006, the MMR in conjunction with the Cook Islands fishing industry in the Indian Ocean, has voluntarily introduced and managed closed protected no-take areas for vulnerable marine ecosystems, called “Benthic Protected Areas”, over a wider area in the Indian Ocean than all mandated closed areas in the entire Pacific Ocean.

A focus for MMR in the SIOFA area is to gazette these areas as mandatory closed areas for all participants in Indian Ocean non-tuna fisheries.

MMR offshore director Costelloe said: “The introduction of 100 per cent observer coverage is an important development for the projection of Cook Islands expertise in responsible fisheries control to an international setting.

“We are working closely with industry and FAO on a cooperative model of systems management partnership, drawing on the strengths of each to manage operations to create a responsible and sustainable fishery.

“We have attracted the attention of the s FAO’s with this joint venture initiative with industry, and we now have now been asked to pioneer and develop systems that will form models for international high seas control and management.

“A bonus for us is that the systems we develop in a controlled way in SIOFA can be applied in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the wider Pacific.

“The selection of observers from the Pacific serves the development of new monitoring and control technologies closer to home, and is a win-win for all of us.”

After completing the cross-endorsement training, the observers will be deployed to the Cook Islands fleet for year-round work trips in all weather.

“The adjustment to the colder weather in Nelson has been a little difficult for observers from tropical countries, but they have discovered the joys of thick jackets, gloves and winter hats, and are learning to cope with the type of winter weather that will be experienced at sea, says Costelloe.

“The level of engagement from these senior Pacific officers has been fantastic as we pioneer this new activity at the highest level of professionalism.”

Deployments begin in August and will cover a range of biological, scientific and compliance functions, working alongside captains and crew to promote best practice and precautionary management of high seas as a systemised output of vessel operations in the Cook Islands.

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