Conservation in our ocean

Monday May 15, 2017 Written by Published in Environment
It is most unlikely that the purse seine fi shery will ever achieve MSC certifi cation, says TIS technical director Kelvin Passfi eld. 17051208 It is most unlikely that the purse seine fi shery will ever achieve MSC certifi cation, says TIS technical director Kelvin Passfi eld. 17051208

In the article about our oceans in CI News on Tuesday May 9, prime minister Henry Puna is quoted as saying, “the future of the Cook Islands and its people is in the ocean that surrounds us”.


Truer words were never spoken. We are an island state with a land to ocean ratio of 1 to 7,500. We consist of 99.987 per cent ocean!

It is really all we have, and our lives are so dependent on it.

Tourism also relies on our ocean, and is our main income earner. In that same article the prime minister also said, “We have tourism, but tourists don’t want to come to an island that is exploited. So it’s a very good move for the Cooks to protect our waters and do it sensibly.”

That is why the recent decision to establish 50 nautical mile zones, that are protected from foreign fishing boats, around each of the 15 islands in the country is such a great initiative.

Te Ipukarea Society is proud to have been helping to lobby government for this initiative in recent years. It really puts our large ocean state on the marine conservation world map.

Two more quotes from the PM in that article were: “the idea of setting up the Marae Moana Maritime Park was to be able to control what happens in the ocean around the Cook Islands” and, “The reality is, our country is a country that was brought up on conservation. Our ancestors, they practiced conservation in their lives.”

While applauding the gains made in marine conservation in our country, Te Ipukarea Society believes that, as a country we can still do much more.

One obvious move in the right direction would be only allowing sustainable fishing methods to be used in our exclusive economic zone EEZ). This can be achieved by only allowing fisheries in our waters that are certified as sustainable. At the moment the most widely-recognized certification is the one managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It is by no means perfect, but it is much better than nothing!

We do have one MSC-certified fishery in our country, and this is a longline fishery involving Chinese vessels targeting albacore and yellowfin tuna.

However, a much larger amount of fish is extracted from our EEZ by purse seiners, and this fishery has no MSC certification. It is also most unlikely that the purse seine fishery will ever achieve MSC certification while the boats are fishing around drifting Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs). This is because when drifting FADs are used, along with the target skipjack tuna, there is a large bycatch of juvenile bigeye tuna, which the scientists tell us are overfished.

Evidence for the general public that the use of drifting FADs in the purse seine fishery is unsustainable can be found right here on the supermarket shelves. A growing number of companies are now only selling sustainable canned tuna, and it is clearly marked on the labels.

So if you want to do your small bit towards helping make our Marae Moana something we can all truly be proud of, encourage your Member of Parliament to pressure Government to ban the use of FADs in the purse seine fishery. And, when you go shopping, right here in the Cook Islands, read the label on your can of tuna and buy only “pole and line” caught or “FAD-free” tuna.

            - Te Ipukarea Society

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