To prevent targeted finning taking place the Ministry of Marine Resources has drafted a shark policy that allows certain species of sharks to be caught as long as their fins are attached to the carcass.
The current Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) licencing conditions allow fishing vessels to retain non-endangered species of shark but that the ratio of fins to carcass weight must not exceed 5 per cent.
MMR says the majority of sharks caught in the Cook Islands waters are blue sharks. MMR secretary Ben Ponia says blue shark catch per unit is increasing in Cook Island waters, which can infer a population increase. No stock assessment has ever been carried out.
Meanwhile, MMR refutes allegations that three tonnes of shark fins have been found on board a Luen Thai fishing vessel.
”These allegations are false,“ says Ponia.
CI News reported Opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen asking minister of marine resources Teina Bishop in Parliament this week about the HMNZS Otago boarding a Luen Thai vessel in the north and discovering a collection of shark fins on board.
CI News also reported the alleged discovery of shark fins on board a foreign fishing vessel to the value of $3 million. This information came from a number of reliable sources close to MMR.
”Responding in detail to these rumours would only compromise operational security and the due processes for investigating the boarding and inspection reports,“ says Ponia.
”However the public can be assured that the picture of a rampant shark finning trade operating in our waters is not true.“
According to MMR what actually took place at sea recently was an unprecedented scale of successful surveillance operations and precise targeting of fishing vessels.
”The shark allegations were irresponsible and sensationalist and undermines the sophisticated operation that was occurring,“ says Ponia.
Multilateral operations were conducted by New Zealand, France, US and Samoa with assistance of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
For the first time fishing vessels involved in exploratory fishing for big-eye tuna and swordfish were boarded for inspection by Cook Islands officials. The boarding party was made up of six maritime police officers and two fisheries officers.
The task plan involved investigating any breaches of fishing licence conditions that prohibit the deliberate targeting of shark fins.