Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Pamela Maru said the government is concerned about the potential for increased Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing due strict border controls.
This week, Cook Islands participated in Operation Island Chief – a 12-day aerial fisheries monitoring and surveillance operation.
Led by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) – the Operation Island Chief conducted surveillance over the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of all FFA member states. Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States provided further support with aerial surveillance alongside the FFA aircraft.
With increased challenges due to the pandemic, Maru said the ministry is currently involved in a number of initiatives with regional countries, organisations such as The Pacific Community (SPC), and fishing companies to develop best practices and ensure health and safety protocols are followed.
Of particular concern is access to ports to carry out inspections, as well as being able to place observers on licensed fishing vessels.
Despite efforts by the ministry to employ Cook Islanders, most of the observers working for the ministry are foreign nationals. Organising flights and making travel arrangements for observers to travel to regional ports has been a serious challenge, Maru said.
“A lot of the immigration rules which are tightly managed at the moment provide access to nationals, but not foreigners, and there’s the issue of flight availability and the logistics around that, so it has created this huge problem,” she said.
“We have some boats that we can’t get observers on, and we wouldn’t try to because our risk assessments tell us there’s too much of a risk.”
Maru said Operation Island Chief follows several aerial surveillance flights that have already been completed this year.