Last week CI News reported Foreign Affairs had repeatedly advised government that the widely unpopular purse seining agreement with the EU contained “fatal flaws.”
But in a statement yesterday, MMR denied the agreement was flawed, adding it did not impinge on Cook Islands’ sovereignty to manage its fisheries.
Among concerns raised by the ministry were the absence of an identified authority to monitor fund payments, the ability to exceed the 7000 metric tonne catch, the possible undermining of the country’s sovereignty, the ability for the EU to undertake exploratory fishing, the questionable value of the agreement to the country, the agreed tacit approval for the agreement to extend beyond eight years and the absence of a vessel day scheme which is established under Marine Resources purse seining regulations.
MMR’s statement says secretary Ben Ponia responded to aspects of the EU Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) last month and is satisfied the concerns raised by Foreign Affairs have been addressed.
The concerns raised do not justify an entirely new partnership to be negotiated as it can be easily managed within existing frameworks, says Ponia.
MMR says Foreign Affairs’ assumptions about the monitoring of payments from the EU are “unfounded,” as is any claim that the agreement undermines Cook Islands’ sovereignty.
“Foreign Affairs has also been advised the agreement is consistent with the motherhood principles, which recognise that all parties who operate in the WCPFC (Tuna Commission) waters have a shared responsibility for proper conservation and management of our shared fishery. The EU as the SFPA flag state has specific responsibilities, which it must adhere to.
“For example, exceeding the 7000 metric tonne catch limit referenced in the agreement without MMR’s consent would be illegal under both Cook Islands and EU laws.”
The statement adds the protocol under the SFPA allows for “flexibility” in the event that MMR agrees to expand the catch limits at a later date.
Within Article 5, it says, there is a provision to do so without having to negotiate an entirely new agreement.
“This makes practical sense, given that we are not using all of our fishing days under the vessel day scheme (VDS),” says Ponia.
He says the SFPA deliberately excludes references to vessel days, which is consistent with the Pacific Islands Forum Leader’s wishes, and the Forum Fisheries Agency’s Future of Fisheries Roadmap.
“Foreign Affairs has been advised that this reflects joint intentions to move the purse seine fishery away from an effort-based system to a catch-based system.”
- Rashneel Kumar/MMR