Cooks achieve tuna certification amidst concerns
The Marine Stewardship Council has issued public notice of the Cook Islands meeting its standards in its Albacore Fishery.
The London-based Marine Stewardship Council has issued a public notice of the Cook Islands meeting its standards in its albacore fishery.
This is seen as the gold standard in sustainable fisheries.
However, the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association and the WWF say the Cook Islands-flagged fishing fleet is almost totally Chinese-owned and heavily subsidised by China.
Koroi Hawkins has more
In a nutshell, the Pacific is at risk of running out of tuna. And certifications like that given by the Marine Stewardship Council are meant to show that countries are managing their dwindling fish stocks sustainably.
ALFRED COOK: "to create a standard that would provide the principles and criteria for establishing sustainability in fisheries. Something that could give the market confidence that the fish that they are buying is indeed sustainable."
Alfred Cook is the Manager of the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme based in the Wellington Office of the WWF. He says objections have been raised by the WWF and the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association to the Cook Islands' certification because its Chinese-owned fleets are heavily subsidised.
ALFRED COOK: "When you subsidise the fisheries and you are providing additional funds for those vessels to operate they can operate well beyond what is biologically sustainable for them to harvest."
But these objections were overruled by the MSC compliance assessment board and the Cook Islands Secretary of Marine Resources Ben Ponia says this is because the subsidies do not offer any such advantage.
BEN PONIA: "We are a rather unique situation in that our waters that are fished, the boats that fish in our waters aren't actually operating from the Cook Islands they operate in a neighbouring state of American Samoa mainly. And so there is an added cost for these vessels to actually operate in our waters."
Mr Ponia says Cook Islands has opened its books to the MSC and has done everything required during the two-year assessment period to prove it is worthy of the certification.
BEN PONIA: "We want to give confidence to the consumers and those who are concerned about the tuna fishery that we are able and we are seeking to obtain a sustainable fishery in our waters."
Despite the reassurance by the Cook Islands, some in the fishery sector feel it sets a bad precedent which other subsidised fleets can take advantage of. Feleti Teo is the Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission also known as the Pacific Tuna Commission. He says conservation efforts are needed.
FELETI TEO: "We are placed in a situation where the stock assessments are telling us that some of the stocks are being overfished and urgent, effective management measures needs to be agreed upon."
He says time is running out for both the Pacific Island and distant water fishing nations who failed to agree in the December meeting of the Pacific Tuna Commission on conservation measures to protect endangered species such as big eye tuna.
FELETI TEO: "at the Commission Secretariat we are hoping that the commission and its members will be able to agree to some measures at its annual meeting this year."
Mr Teo however acknowledges that the Pacific Tuna Commission's preference for doing things by consensus may not be enough this time and that proposed measures may have to be put to a vote.
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