The decision from the Nga Pu Toru is because they wish to uphold the fishing exclusion zone set in place by Marae Moana legislation, they say.
The Pa Enua leaders have been backed by the Democratic Party, which had two MPs at a recent meeting on Mitiaro, as part of the Nga Pu Toru Spatial Planning Collaboration Forum. Also in attendance were representatives from the Aronga Mana, Ministry of Marine Resources, Seabed Minerals Authority, National Environment Service and Marae Moana in attendance.
MP Selina Napa said she was surprised that the Ministry of Marine Resources representative began to push for the island to support the request of the fishing company and “overturn” the Marae Moana legislation.
She described the exclusion zone as “a significant step towards protecting our ocean”.
“Now we have Marine Resources asking Nga Pu Toru to ignore this hugely important conservation around each island and allow commercial fishing. Allow one company and the rest will follow. There will be nothing left for the local fishermen.”
Questions sent to the Ministry remained unanswered but a senior fisheries officer confirmed that under existing law, Ocean Fresh vessels were not permitted to fish within 50 miles of any island in the Cook Islands.
One of the reasons for lifting the ban, given by Marine Resources, was that Ocean Fresh did not have blast freezers on its fishing boats so it needed to fish closer to Rarotonga to enable quicker sales.
But Napa said she could not understand why a government agency was promoting a private company and urging the southern islands to allow their ra’ui fishing areas to be exploited – just because the company did not have adequate facilities.
“That’s a business issue, this is not for the Pa Enua to solve by allowing their reserve area to be opened up to benefit a commercial company,” she said, “and that’s pretty much what the Marine Resources reps were told by the Pa Enua.”
Napa says her real concern is why the government is doing an about-turn and wanting the 50 mile boundaries opened up in violation of the Marae Moana legislation.
It was reassuring that House of Ariki President Tou Travel Ariki urged everyone present to think of the future and not be swayed by promises of financial returns, she said.
“In return for dispensing with our Marae Moana laws and being able to exploit the ra’ui area, Ocean Fresh, through the government reps from Marine Resources, was promising to be fishing every day, creating jobs and market supply.
“I believe that the benefits would be for Rarotonga and not the Pa Enua, who would be sacrificing their reserved fishing area.”