A delegation from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) were in Rarotonga last week to meet with MMR and Crown Law officials for the final review of the bills.
MMR Secretary Ben Ponia says the main additions to the Marine Resources Act are provisions for Port State Measure agreements, food competency, the enforcement of marine reserves, and quota management systems (QMS).
“The current Act is quite outdated. Fisheries are very dynamic and the new bill will need to reflect the coming into force of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) and other current institutional arrangements and conventions,” says Ponia.
“The crux of the Act remains, however, we thought it was best to repeal the entire Act, rather than just amend it.
“We are now coming to the end of the drafting process. We began the first draft with the FFA and this was passed on to Crown Law.
“The Parliamentary Council office in Wellington has redrafted this into the new format now required for bills.
“This week we are looking at that and making additional comments before it goes back to Crown Law to have it again tidied up before it comes back to the Ministry. Cabinet will then have to approve the bill before it can be taken to Parliament.”
The Marine Zones Bill will introduce new provisions for the Cook Islands territorial seas.
Ponia says public consultations on this and the new provisions of the bill will be held soon.
FFA’s legal counsel Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen says the assistance provided for legislative reviews ensures FFA members like the Cooks have robust fisheries laws in place that reflect obligations to international and regional laws and agreements.
“There are also decisions that come out of the Tuna Commission that must be promptly implemented and one of the avenues to do that is through legislation.
“In our work we ensure that the Cook Islands can meet those obligations. In addition to that, and more importantly is to ensure that the legislation reflects national interests and priorities,” says Dr Tupou-Roosen.
FFA legal consultant Professor Bill Edeson has played an instrumental role in the drafting of the bill over the past few years.
“To understand how far we’ve come, you have to go back to the early 80s when the Law of the Seas Convention was completed and many countries particularly coastal states like the Cook Islands were adopting legislation to give effect to the 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
“What’s happened is countries like the Cook Islands adopted laws back in that time and then along came the UN Fish Stocks Agreement.
“That required changes to be made, and we’ve had other international instruments like the International Plan of Action on IUU Fishing which then required further amendments to law.
“So it is actually a fairly continuous process of updating legislation in an ever-changing scene.”
Edeson says they also believe that the new FAO Port Measures Agreement will come into force any day now.
“We are putting in provisions on port measures in the bill so that the Cook Islands is in position to give effect to this convention as soon as it wants to,” he says.
In addition to the review of the bill, MMR has consulted with FFA and Australian Fisheries Management Authority officials on the further development of one of the region’s most valuable fisheries management, control, and surveillance (MCS) tools known as the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA).