In March, the Business Trade and Investment Board (BTIB) approved a move to add a seasonal variation to the business licence of Huanan Fisheries Ltd.
Under the new arrangement, Huanan will only be allowed to offload by-catch – which consists mostly of mahi mahi and wahoo - during the peak tourism months of May, June, July and August. Previously, the company had no restrictions as to which months it could offload by-catch.
Huanan is currently approved to supply by-catch to two local retailers – Prime Foods and Manea Foods – along with an entity called CI Smoked Seafoods, as part of a trial programme that began in late 2012.
Since May 2013, the programme has been on a rolling basis of consecutive three-month terms, during which BTIB has undertaken a study to determine the effect of Huanan’s by-catch on the local fishing industry.
The Cook Islands Fishing Association has been a major critic of the arrangement, claiming the trial programme is destroying the livelihoods of local fishers by lowering the price they command for their catches.
According to a government document, BTIB officials acknowledge the supply of by-catch to the local market has resulted in cheaper fish for consumers, but that has come at a cost to the local industry.
“...... this has had an adverse effect on the local fishing industry and the Board is bound by its duty under legislation to ensure that the interests of Cook Islanders are considered in any decisions concerning foreign investors,” reads the document.
“The decision by the Board recognises that we should also provide support to our local fishermen,” said BTIB Chief Executive Terry Rangi. “Our (management’s) recommendation to the Board, upon which this was approved, was to acknowledge that at times - particularly our peak tourist season - we need the long line fishing boats to supply but at other times particularly our off season we need to get behind our fishermen.”
“In a way it’s a sensible, balanced approach,” he said.
Huanan - a subsidiary of industry giant Luen Thai Fishing Venture – will continue to be permitted to offload catches year-round for export to foreign markets.
Ministry of Marine Resource Secretary Ben Ponia has previously stated that a supply shortfall of 95 metric tonnes exists in the Cook Islands due to demand from visitors.
Between July and September in 2013, he said 26 tonnes of by-catch were sold locally for an average price of $2.95 per kilogram.