Concerns at Cooks purse seine increase
The Cook Islands is hoping to extend its economic potential by opening up purse seine fishing to more international operators.
The Ministry of Marine Resources has announced it will open up a second round of negotiations to assign what's left of its purse seine allocations.
The Ministry's already signed a 400 day agreement with Korean company Silla Co.
However, the move has been met with resistance.
Tom Furley reports:
The Ministry still has almost half of its 1250 purse seine fishing day allocations to fill before the end of this year.
The Secretary of Marine Resources, Ben Ponia, says ensuring those spaces are utilised is important.
"It is actually a concern that it may not be used because we feel that we have a very large fishery in our waters. We have some of the highest catching rates in our waters and so we want to utilise the economic resource that has been afforded to us; our large ocean."
Mr Ponia says if filled it could add more than 10 million dollars to the country's economy.
"The benefit obviously immediately is that resource can be converted into revenue. Revenue that can go back into the communities to help develop themselves. Our northern islands are devoid of any economic activity aside from pearl farming really and so this opens up an opportunity for the Cook Islands to offset its reliance on tourism."
But the announcement's been met with opposition.
The Environmental organisation Te Ipukarea Society, is concerned about increasing purse seining in the region.
Its technical director, Kelvin Passfield, says the tools used by purse seine vessels put stocks at risk.
"The trouble is if they use these fish aggregation devices to attract fish then included with that school of skip-jack tuna there's also juvenile bigeye tuna and bigeye tuna are over-fished. When they use the FADs it becomes an unsustainable fishery because they will fish out the bigeye stocks."
But while Ben Ponia says the Ministry is aware of the concerns, it's not enough to stop negotiations.
"We're conscious that we don't want to be contributing to the problem with bigeye. But we're also joining in with the idea of let's help manage this problem. Our waters will be available for FAD research. I don't think the problem of FAD is insurmountable, I don't think its a reason why we can't enter into this fishery, albeit cautiously."
However, for Mr Passfield, there is further concern about what message the government is sending, particularly with the declaration of over one-point-one- million square kilometres of Marae Moana.
"For the government to claim to have this desire to be conservation minded and conserve marine reserves on one hand through setting up this large marine park, and then on the other hand to continue actually up-scaling the fishing I think is a little bit contradictory and maybe will affect the credibility of the marine park on the international scene."
Mr Ponia disagrees and says they can be compatible.
"There's a technicality in that the marine park is in the southern half of our EZ and purse saine fishing takes part only in the top part of our EZ or quite far away from the marine park,. However we don't see incompatibility of our principle of engaging in a fishery in a sustainable manner."
Kelvin Passfield says he is not alone in his concerns, with many other locals worried about the impact of further fishing.
He says he's looking at a petition to halt further allocations.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: