Puna, who is also the Minister of Marine Resources, welcomed the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) governing body, highlighting four key regional fisheries challenges.
A key priority, Puna said, was a concerted collective approach to the continued threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“Here in the Cook Islands, our own Oceans Monitoring Centre at the Ministry of Marine Resources contributes to the strengthening of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) in our region.”
Puna noted that the new Pacific Maritime Security Programme with its enhanced aerial surveillance, and proposals to strengthen regional MCS frameworks and the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement, would develop this further.
The prime minister urged all FFA members to consider what they can do now to ensure their collective long-term interests, particularly in the longline albacore fishery.
“We welcome the fact that all four major tuna stocks: skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore are now sustainably managed. However, it is also the case that stronger regional cooperation that underpins sustainability can also help ensure better economic returns to us all.”
The third priority, said Puna, must be the consideration of a range of positions the FFA members will collectively take to this year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting to promote effective conservation and management of tuna resources.
“The work to bring about a strengthened Tropical Tuna measure, based on a harvest strategy approach, will be critical. This will also help maintain momentum on improving the status of the bigeye stock - a high priority identified in the Regional Roadmap.”
The Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries, endorsed in 2015 by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, set seven clear goals for oceanic and coastal fisheries for the following 10 years.
Puna said the recent FFA High Seas Workshop had kicked off a process to set strategies that will promote and protect the interests of the island nations in negotiating with Distant Water Fishing Nations, highlighting the benefits of ‘strength through cooperation’.
The fourth key challenge was to start a process of renewal for FFA through the development of a new Strategic Plan for 2020 and beyond, he said.
“While the FFA Secretariat can help map out a plan and identify the resources needed, it is crucial that the FFA members and our ministers take ownership of this process. In this regard, let us consider not only what we have done right over the past 40 years, but what is required of us in the years ahead to produce even better outcomes for our people.”
Puna said Cook Islanders recognised tuna resources were “one of our great assets that must be sustainably managed for the benefit of our present and future generations.
“Fisheries revenue from tuna is now a significant source of income within our national budget. This allows our government to more effectively support our broader social and economic goals and to promote broad-based sustainable development within our island community.
“As members of the FFA, we are the custodians of some of the world’s richest marine resources and are indeed blessed with valuable tuna stocks. Around one third of all the world’s tuna catch occurs in our waters.”
Puna said the Cook Islands highly valued the support, advice and leadership provided by the FFA Secretariat in helping with collective management of tuna resources since the agency was set up in 1979.
FFC106 is chaired by Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.
FFA director-general James Movick said FFC106 had a long and important agenda and much of this involved crafting a way forward for the FFA to remain vibrant and relevant.
Movick noted that one of the most important decisions to be made this week is a recommendation on a new director-general for endorsement at the 15th Forum Fisheries Committee Ministers Meeting (FFCMIN15) to be hosted in Rarotonga from July 3 to 5.
“I will have mixed emotions when I turn over the reins of leadership in November, but I will be confident in the future of this agency,” said Movick.