Her comments come after paua were harvested in Manihiki as a part of the island’s Te Maeva Nui preparations.
Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) communications officer Helen Greig said that paua are a “highly sought-after traditional food source” for the people of the Cook Islands, adding that three out of the 10 known species are found in Cook Islands waters, including two native species.
“The meat of the paua, namely the adductor muscle and mantle, are used for consumption,” she said.
The harvest and export of paua from the island of Manihiki is prohibited by the jurisdictive powers of the Manihiki Island Council. However, personal harvest and consumption may occur within the island.
In 2011, the Manihiki Island Council passed a resolution to allow a regulated harvest and the export of paua to Rarotonga, with technical assistance provided by MMR.
An MMR survey conducted in 2011 investigated paua densities and size distributions within the Manihiki lagoon. MMR advised a sustainable harvest quota for the Island Council to adopt before the Te Maeva Nui harvest was carried out. MMR also recommended appropriate harvest areas, based on the survey information. Greig says that a “one-off harvest quota of 1.2 tonnes” was considered a “very conservative and sustainable” amount to harvest by MMR.
A survey conducted in 2012 covered 11 sites and recorded data for 10,491 paua. At that time, MMR estimated that there were approximately 5.8 million paua in the Manihiki lagoon, half of which were a harvestable size. In 2012, MMR recommended a harvest limit of 5 per cent of the harvestable population. Some 3600 kg of paua meat was harvested that year.
Syme-Buchanan says that harvesting paua like this “is not sustainable”. She says that paua are a finite resource and that if the people of Manihiki continue to harvest paua in the same way, then they can expect “the same result as Aitutaki – no more paua”.
However, Greig says that the Manihiki Island Council also consults with MMR for other, smaller one-off harvests. She says that MMR continues to provide harvest quota advice and monitors each harvest to assist the community in ensuring that the paua population remains healthy.
Greig does admit that the latest survey carried out in Aitutaki showed that the paua population has continued to decline.
She says that the paua population has been affected by “a number of factors”, including over-harvesting and bleaching events.
Greig adds that the Aitutaki Fisheries Protection bylaws were introduced to prohibit the export of paua from Aitutaki and Manuae without a permit and that they also limit harvest numbers. Furthermore, Greig says that MMR helps to enforce the bylaws.
MMR’s Aitutaki Marine Research Centre houses a paua hatchery that contributes to the efforts to rejuvenate stocks in the lagoon.