At the 43rd Pacific Leaders Forum in 2012 prime minister Henry Puna formally launched the Cook Islands Marine Park.
Now, five years later, it is time for the Cook Islands government to finally make a decision on what sort of marine park we are going to have for our Marae Moana.
We have heard that at the next sitting of cabinet, on Tuesday, March 14, the prime minister and five MPs who make up this powerful group of decision makers will be making a very important discussion.
These six individuals will decide what the size of the exclusion zones for foreign fishing boats in our Marae Moana Marine Park should be. We do hope the ministers have been provided, with the the information they need to help with their decision, and have read it.
As has been reported earlier, our prime minister has promised 50 nautical mile exclusion zones around all islands at several international meetings in recent years, including at US Secretary of State John Kerry’s State Department Ocean Conference, on June 17, 2014.
However, pressure from the Ministry of Marine Resources is apparently making him have second thoughts. And crunch time is approaching!
The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has been actively pushing for only 24 nautical miles exclusion zones. They also tell us they have consulted with the northern group about how big these no foreign fishing zones will be. However, we now know that in fact the people were told that the protection zones would be increased from 12 miles to 24 miles.
Options for larger zones were not discussed at all. Meanwhile, we believe some of the outer islands consulted recently by our traditional leaders in the southern group have said they prefer 100 nautical mile zones not 24, in order to protect their fishing livelihoods.
If the people of the Cook Islands want to have a say about the size of foreign fishing exclusion zones around our islands, now would be a good time to do so.
Information to help inform the choice includes:
• One nautical mile is 1.84km, or nearly double the distance of 1 kilometer, so don’t get confused! 24nm protected zones around each of our 15 islands = about 6 per cent of our EEZ protected, with 94 per cent still available to foreign fishing boats.
• 50 nautical mile zones = about 20 per cent of our EEZ protected, with 80 per cent still available to foreign fishing boats
• 50 nautical miles around all, but 100 nautical mile around Suwarrow, our National Park, = 25 per cent protected, with about 75 per cent available to foreign fishing boats
• 100nm around each islands = about 45 per cent of our EEZ protected, with 55 per cent available to foreign fishing boats.
In all four cases mentioned above, the majority (over 50 per cent) of Cook Islands’ EEZ will still remain open to foreign fishing vessels.
The secretary for Marine Resources, Ben Ponia, claims that if we have closed zones larger than 24 miles, the foreign fishery cannot survive and we will lose the money we are currently receiving from fishing licences. This is not true, as can be determined from a 2015 report prepared by the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) for MMR.
This report was only made available because of the Purse Seine Select Committee process late last year. It shows that most of the tuna is caught in the 100-200km zone (further than 50 nautical miles from the islands).
So if we close the closer areas, within 50 miles, for example, the foreign boats will have to fish further away from the islands, in locations where they are still catching most of their fish. This is unlikely to have an impact on their catches.
Meanwhile, as the fish within that 50-mile zone will no longer be caught by foreign boats, some of these will eventually migrate closer to the islands, which will be great for local fishermen.
If you feel strongly about this issue you could contact cabinet, and your own Member of Parliament, letting them know your preference, 24, 50, or 100 miles.
That will, hopefully, help guide their discussion on Tuesday.
Contact email addresses for cabinet ministers: