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A career in tuna fisheries

Thursday 15 December 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Business, Education, National

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A career in tuna fisheries
Dr Lara Manarangi-Trott with Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Pamela Maru (left), Feleti P. Teo, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann, MMR Fisheries Officer Tiare-Renee Nicholas. 22121409

Cook Islander Dr Lara Manarangi-Trott has dedicated her career to fisheries and holds one of the top jobs at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). She talks to Cook Islands News journalist Caleb Fotheringham at the recently concluded Commission summit in Vietnam.

Dr Lara Manarangi-Trott’s résumé from an early age is impressive. She became dux of both her primary school at Avatea and Tereora College, was awarded a university scholarship from the Australian Government and achieved a Bachelor of Science with first degree honours at the University of New South Wales. She also holds a PhD from the University of Wollongong in science, international law and policy, and continued her education throughout her career at Harvard and Oxford.

Manarangi-Trott says it’s a fair statement that she has always been ambitious when the question is put to her by Cook Islands News.

“It means a lot to me to do well. It means even more to me to be doing well and assisting others,” she says, at the hotel lobby in Vietnam where the Commission’s 19th Regular Session was held.

The WCPFC is the governing body that looks after the tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and the Cook Islands is one of its 26 member countries.

Between starting her PhD and completing her undergraduate degree, Manarangi-Trott worked for Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources. It was there when she was exposed to tuna fisheries management at a Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency meeting held in Rarotonga.

Manarangi-Trott says it was her job to “make sandwiches and hand out cups of coffee because that’s what ladies do”, but she still managed to get her hands on copies of papers and talk to people at the conference.

While there she saw the need for someone to be in fisheries management who understood both science and policy. It encouraged her to pursue a PhD.

“Out of high school, I was really interested in science and working in a lab,” Manarangi-Trott says.

“When I got back to the Cook Islands, after having done my study, I realised that the scientific work that I thought that I wanted to do wasn’t what the Cook Islands needed.

“I really wanted to do something that was going to go on to mean something to the Cook Islands and mean something to the Pacific.”

While studying for her PhD, Manarangi-Trott became involved with the WCPFC, funding trips to the annual meetings off her own dime, often picking up extra waitressing jobs to afford the flights.

She ended up getting a job as an adviser on WCPFC with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in 2006 where she stayed for six years in the Solomon Islands and later joined the Commission, where she still works as the compliance manager.

During this year’s Regular Session of the WCPFC, Manarangi-Trott unsuccessfully applied to be the Commission’s executive director.

Her candidacy had Cook Islands Government’s full support.

Prime Minister Mark Brown wrote a letter to the member states and participating territories that make up the WCPFC backing her application.

“I am confident that Dr Manarangi-Trott’s long-standing commitment to managing regional fisheries demonstrates her dedication to building upon her already exemplary service to the WCPFC and its membership,” the Prime Minister wrote in his letter.

“The Cook Islands has full trust that as Executive Director, she will lead the organisation in achieving even further success”.

Manarangi-Trott lost the job to Rhea Moss-Christian from the Marshall Islands who became the Commission’s first female executive director.

“It wasn’t the outcome that I wanted and I’m still probably processing exactly how I feel about it,” Manarangi-Trott says.

“There is disappointment, because of the platform that I actually ran on, which was that I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and I think I’ve proven that I can be a very good senior member of the Secretariat. I believed that I had everything that was needed to be able to be the next Executive Director.”

She says the Commission’s role is to be a servant to the member countries and participating territories and support them in making consensus decisions.

“I really felt and feel that I’ve demonstrated the ability to do that consistently over an 11-year period.

“I spent 12 months last year, completing my postgraduate diploma from Oxford University on organisational leadership and that was something I did part-time during Covid, online, and that was a way of me preparing myself.”

Manarangi-Trott says the most challenging thing about the job process was applying and preparing herself for the role on top of the job she was already doing. 

She says she had been given support and encouragement throughout her career by colleagues in the Cook Islands and family, particularly in her current role as the WCPFC compliance manager.

“I also want to give thanks to all staff at WCPFC for their dedication and hard work, Meitaki Maata,” Manarangi-Trott says.

The person who got the role, Moss-Christian, told Cook Islands News, Manarangi-Trott has made a lot of impact with her time working at the Commission.

“It’s been an incredible, immense contribution,” Moss-Christian says, “not just in the compliance space where she’s mainly been working but just strengthening the foundation of this Commission in terms of the information that’s come available.”

“She’s dealing with a lot of technical issues and detailed information and managing the Commission’s monitoring programmes. These aren’t easy things to do.”