The Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) maintains its efforts to develop sustainable fisheries are highly credible within the framework of the Cook Islands Marine Park, Marae Moana.

The Ministry’s submission to the Purse Seining Special Select Committee also highlights its regional reputation as a leader in marine conservation.


According to MMR’s submission, the purpose of the Marae Moana Oceans Policy 2016-2020 is to: “Promote conserving biodiversity and natural assets in the oceans, reefs and islands while ensuring sustainable development of economic growth interests.”

The submission also states, this commitment specifically allows for the multiple-use of our oceans including commercial fisheries and seabed minerals.

The Select Committee supports the position of MMR, rejecting the grievance of the purse seine petition tabled in parliament last year. The assertion of petitioners was that the Cook Islands commitment to global marine conservation goals, through the Marae Moana policy, will lose all credibility if the Cook Islands increases its contribution to the overexploitation of bigeye tuna by purse seine fishing.

The select committee report notes “the comments made by the SPC (Pacific Community) and the FFA (Forum Fisheries Agency) that the MMR has been a leader in marine conservation and its efforts to develop a sustainable commercial fishery, including purse seining, are commendable and highly credible within the framework of Marae Moana”.

MMR’s submission says given that migratory tuna is not the exclusive property of the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the only means for Cook Islands to be effective in their efforts to advocate for conservation and Marae Moana is to utilise our rights to participate in this fishery and demonstrate how to develop a sustainable purse seine fishery.

MMR’s submission states that “It is important to recognise that the Cook Islands “Ocean State” is a modern creation of the United Nations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), known as the Law of the Sea. This Treaty establishes EEZ borders and conservation of the living resources of the oceans. A subsidiary agreement, the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, divided up the world’s ocean and established regional fisheries bodies to manage migratory tuna stocks across different EEZs. In the Pacific the UN fisheries body is the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) better known as the ‘Tuna Commission’.”

The Committee noted that bycatch from purse seiners using fish aggregating devices (FADs) remains a concern. However, the Committee rejected grievance 5 of the purse seine petition which alleged MMR had failed to ban the use of FADs, despite an ‘unacceptable impact on bigeye tuna stocks’.

The MMR Submission says: “There is no evidence that purse seining is causing an unacceptable impact on bigeye tuna stocks. Therefore, a ban on purse seining is not necessary, nor desirable for the Cook Islands. The MMR is backed up in this position by scientific evidence from SPC and by the catch limit available through the Tokelau Arrangement.”

In their submission MMR further stated, “Purse seining using FADs in the Cook Islands does not harm the regional or national sustainability of the stocks because the Cook Island footprint for bigeye is extremely small and makes no significant contribution to the bigeye mortality in the region. To put this into context, the total catches of bigeye tuna from 2010 to 2014 was 700,000 tonnes and the total bigeye tuna caught at FADs in the Cook Islands during this same period of time was 1,600 tonnes or 0.2 per cent of the total bigeye. Banning purse seine fishing would have no conservation impact.”

The Committee made several recommendations on bigeye tuna conservation and FAD mitigation, including that MMR prioritise research that will support free school purse seining and FAD designs that will have low levels of bycatch. It recommended that MMR consider harmonising the vessel day scheme to manage effort for skipjack with a quota management system to manage bigeye tuna catches. Consideration of imposing a FAD charge on all purse seine sets, developing greater e-monitoring and e-observing capacity, and the continued monitoring of catches of bigeye in the longline fishery were also recommended.

The proposed EU Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) offers an opportunity to further develop free school and FAD fisheries and the Committee has recommended that MMR prioritise trials of Non-Entangling FADs (NEFs) under this agreement.

MMR submitted that, “The Spanish boats are considered amongst the best fishers and are able to target free school. They are also involved in leading edge research in the development of NEFs which further reduce the amount and types of bycatch caught. Moreover, a catch based scheme, such as a catch quota system, to impose limits on the bycatch species has been proved in a number of fisheries to be extremely viable and could be a useful model for the WCPFC in implementing the Harvest Strategy approach to Tuna Management.”

The Ministry notes  that free school purse seine sets lead to a higher per cent of adult yellowfin tuna being caught, which could impact the artisanal (local small-scale) fishery.

“This suggests that a combination of free school and FAD sets is required to balance the bycatch of bigeye and yellowfin tuna.”

MMR’s submission says that as the purse seine fishery effort increased since 2012, it now understands that it is uneconomical for vessels to fish only on free schools in Cook Islands waters. “Like Tuvalu and Tokelau next door we are a ‘FAD dependent’ fishery, unlike PNA [Parties to the Nauru Agreement] countries further west such as Papua New Guinea whom have shallow archipelagic waters there is less opportunities to fish at free schools.” : CKIMMR/PACNEWS [/restrict]