Purse seine fishing ban petition under fire
Cook Islanders living on the northern island of Manihiki have called for their signatures to be withdrawn from a petition to ban purse seine fishing.
Cook Islanders living on the northern island of Manihiki have called for their signatures to be withdrawn from a petition to ban purse seine fishing within the territory's waters.
About 4,000 Cook Islanders have signed the petition that the government says will be considered by a select committee.
Ben Robinson reports.
Government ministers met Manihiki residents at the start of the month as part of a consultation process over purse seine fishing. The mayor of Manihiki, Ngamata Napara, says of about 250 people who live on the island, most attended the two meetings in Tauhunu and Tukao.
NGAMATA NAPARA: "In Tauhunu three people stood up and said they were willing to withdraw their signatures on the petition and in Tukao as well, two people got up to support the presentation that they heard and they signed the petition and they wanted to withdraw. So I had to ask people that were against it or people that supported it. The majority of people that attended showed their support, saying they agreed to withdraw their support of the petition that they signed. In both meetings."
The Finance Minister Mark Brown says Manihikians were misled into signing the petition.
MARK BROWN: "Obviously they weren't given the full story in terms of how the fishery is being managed by the Cook Islands and how it's being managed across the region. Once this message was clearly explained to our people, the view point swung away from a total ban on purse seine fishing, to a much more pragmatic approach to yes, let's have purse seine fishing, but make sure it's done in a sustainable manner and make sure that the affects to by-catch in particular the big eye (tuna) juveniles is minimised as much as possible."
The petition was organised by the environmental NGO Te Ipukarea, and its spokesperson Kelvin Passfield says it's the government who's being misleading.
KELVIN PASSFIELD: "The petition is very clear and self explanatory. With the Cook Islands petitions we followed the guidelines to the letter. It's all in one piece so you can't attach signatures to a paper they haven't read, it's all together. I don't know how they were mislead because nobody went up with the petitions to try and coerce people to sign. The only misleading is being done by the government by flying up there and trying to coerce the people to take their signatures off the petition."
But Mark Brown says the Manihikians were swayed by the bigger picture.
MARK BROWN: "Some people were not aware of the fact that our fishery in the Cook Islands represents half a percent of the catch across all Pacific island countries. Pointing that out to our people and saying, we are a drop in the bucket but it's a very lucrative drop for our particular economy. So in terms of an impact on fish stocks and in particular by-catch, the impact in Cook Islands waters is just a fraction of what is occurring in other areas which is why the approach to trying to minimise by-catch, the approach to sustainability must be done on a regional basis."
However, Kelvin Passfield says the Cook Islands could set the example for the region and reduce by-catch by banning high-tech lures known as fish aggregation devices.
KELVIN PASSFIELD: "The petition explained we'd approached the government and said we think there should be a ban on fish aggregation devices and they wouldn't listen to it they wouldn't discuss it with the foreign fishing companies or countries. But within the Cook Islands community there was a lot of people who wanted an outright ban on purse seining. So we saw that the only way to get the people to come together was to join with them and say we want a ban on purse seining because the purse seining in the Cook Islands uses fish aggregation devices."
Mark Brown says Manihikians no longer opposed to purse seine fishing can make a submission to the select committee considering the petition.
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