The company’s Rarotonga based operations manager, Min Liu, has been in Penrhyn for talks with the Island Council and to investigate the possibility of starting in-port transhipments for the Huanan longline fleet. Huanan Fishery has 29 vessels licensed to fish in the Cook Islands.
Some Penrhyn islanders have speculated that Huanan Fishery also has plans to set up a plant to process by-catch but according to the ministry of Marine Resources this isn’t the case.
MMR’s Andrew Jones says the Penrhyn Island Council would be able to charge “some sort of fee,” for tonnage. This would be in addition to fees charged by MMR for transhipment licenses. Penrhyn Island Council executive officer Vaine Wichman says talks with Huanan’s agent “haven’t progressed to any fee structures other than our normal island government ones relating to passage/port entry and length of stay.”
Huanan’s agent is expected to provide the Island Council and MMR with a scoping report whether Penrhyn’s harbour would be able to facilitate regular transhipments.
Wichman says talks with the fishing company have involved looking at wharf facilities, Penrhyn lagoon and Huanan appreciating planned Omoka wharf development.
Penrhyn has been allocated $200,000 capital expenditure in the national budget to “...begin prepping our tired wharf for consolidation and climate proofing.”
The Penrhyn Island Council has bid $2.4 million in the 2017/18 budget for a major wharf upgrade over the next three years. The wharf and airstrip was originally built by American troops who were stationed on Penrhyn during World War Two. While southern group islands have been given millions to upgrade their wharves Wichman says Penrhyn’s “national infrastructure that guards our northern border and EEZ claims needs a lot of tender care and attention.”
“Then we can get on and sustain some serious economic programs that will mainstay our northerners and the infrastructure and marine resources we look after in custody for the country.”
She points out that national patrol boat Te Kukupa ties up at Penrhyn wharf about seven times a year, including inter-island ships, international yachts and cargo vessels.
If transhipping in Penrhyn goes ahead, MMR envisages there could be conservatively eight full operations between April to December each year from 37 metre fishing boats to a mother vessel measuring about 45 metres. The vessels would remain in port between five to six days. MMR officer Andrew Jones says no fuel loading between vessels would be permitted to safe guard against spills in the harbour. Bunkering is not permitted within 24 miles of any island in the Cook Islands.
All transhipments have to be authorised by MMR and have occurred off Pukapuka and at Avatiu Wharf in Rarotonga. Jones says fishing companies are required to have trained observers on board each time this is done. Transhipping is advantageous for fishing companies as their vessels don’t have to return to Pago Pago in American Samoa to offload catch, avoiding the loss of valuable fishing days. However Greenpeace is opposed to the practice, advocating for it to be halted because of difficulties involved in monitoring catch and the length of time vessels can remain at sea.
Penrhyn is the most remote island from Rarotonga lying 1365 kilometres northeast from the capital. Barely visible from each other on the horizon, two villages, Omoka and Te Tautua lie at opposite ends of the 180 square kilometre lagoon which is surrounded by a 60 km reef. The 2011 census estimated the islands’ population to be 203. Government statistics show the island’s population has steadily declined since 1996 when about 600 people were recorded to be living there.
Attempts to contact Huanan Fishery for comment have been unsuccessful.
Huanan Fishery (Cook Islands) Ltd is a subsidiary of Luen Thai Fishing Venture, the latter was involved in the high profile corruption case against former minister of the Crown Teina Bishop.
MMR confirms that transhipment at sea is not permitted in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). All vessels must tranship or unload their catch in a designated port to ensure that the catches are correctly quantified and recorded, says MMR media consultant Helen Greig.
According to Greig, transhipment in port is highly regulated by national regulations and the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Commission and can be more economical for fishing fleets when their fishing grounds are far from the port where catch is finally offloaded for export.
She says Huanan Fishery Ltd.’s longline operations became the first Chinese tuna fleet to receive Marine Stewardship Council certification for Albacore tuna in 2015, joining a leading group of more than 250 MSC certified fisheries helping to ensure healthy marine ecosystems for this and future generations.
Greig says the MSC programme provides a “powerful instrument for transforming the global tuna fisheries market to a sustainable basis, and improving the way tuna fisheries are managed and governed.”