The people of Penrhyn have stated time and time again they strongly oppose purse seining and in particular the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners, says former MP and local lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen.
“They still stick to that position despite a change in their Member of Parliament to the Cook Islands Party’s Willie John, who has betrayed those that believed he will fight against Government policy and drive to entrench purse seining fishing as a norm in our waters.”
It is disappointing that John and the other Northern group MPs are silent and not fighting for their people against the dangers of such policies, says Rasmussen, who has been selected by the Penrhyn Democratic Party branch as the island’s candidate in the next elections.
“I represent the mayor of the island, the majority of island councillors, the majority of people living on the island and the Hakono Hararanga Incorporation, an entity set up for the conservation and regeneration of Tongareva’s flora and fauna and indeed marine life.”
Reports from the island say that catches of pelagic fish have reduced dramatically and any fish caught are mainly juvenile.
And islanders become extremely worried when purse seiners are constantly spotted within the island’s 12 mile exclusive zone, Rasmussen says.
In fact Spanish purse seiners had been intruding into northern Cook Islands waters for many years but only now is the government formalising their rights to fish in Cook Islands’ waters, he claims
Rasmussen says the Ministry of Marine Resources has been made aware of these sightings.
“But (MMR) continues to brush aside those concerns and insultingly advances a programme of donating funds to respective Fishing Associations in the north as a form of bribing them into silence and acquiescence with Government policy.”
The people of Tongareva are also opposed to sea bed mining and although they support the future zoning of the northern group waters into a marine park, they think the current setup of the marine park has serious failings, he says.
It is proposed as a category three park which does not call for the cessation of purse seining and use of FADs and seabed mining.
“When (government officials) visited the northern group islands they gave the impression to the people there that the establishment of the park will bring an end to purse seining and seabed mining.”
Despite several attempts, CI News was unable to gain a response from Member of Parliament for Tongareva, Willie John.