Fishing licence details with-held

Thursday 16 August 2012 | Published in National

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The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has at last responded to a request Cook Islands News made under the Official Information Act (OIA) about fishing licences.

CINews made the inquiry in June when Parliament was debating the merits of Budget Book 1, which vaguely refers to the licensing of 20 additional vessels under MMR’s exploratory programme. MMR secretary Ben Ponia responded to the request, which cost CINews $50 to make, on July 31.

Currently 46 vessels possess licences to fish in Cook Islands waters. Fifteen of those are Cook Islands-registered, and some of those flying the Cook Islands flag have multiple licences – to fish both within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone and on the high seas outside the jurisdiction of the Cook Islands government. Sixteen are licensed to fish on the high seas.

Cook Islands vessels hold more licences than any other nation, though China is close behind with 12 licensed vessels. Nine ships registered in Vanuatu are licensed, as are five from Fiji, two from Taiwan, two from the United States and one from Kiribati.

Two Vanuatu vessels are licensed to trans-ship cargo inside the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, and China has 17 licences for ‘exploratory’ fishing of swordfish and big-eye.

MMR issues fishing licences throughout the year on a rolling basis.

”Fishing licenses are issued throughout the year depending on when a license is up for renewal or when a new license application is received,“ Ponia said.

In response to queries about whether MMR has sold additional licences, as indicated in the text of the 2012 budget, he said: ”Pursuant to section 18 of the OIA Act I have decided that further elaboration of this request is not warranted primarily on the basis that the request is frivolous“.

Ponia also dismissed Cook Islands News’ request for chapter and verse of the licensing agreements.

”I have decided that details of the license agreements will be withheld pursuant to sections 8 & sections 6 of the OIA Act primarily on the basis that fishing license (sic) are a commercial and confidential arrangement between the Crown and the fishing vessel owner or operator and that disclosure could prejudice the entrustment of information to Government, maintenance of law and to prevent improper gain or improper advantage,“ he said.He said, however, that all licences are subject to the terms and conditions of the Cook Island Marine Resources Act, regulations and the management and conservations measures set out by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Fishing vessels are required to display their licences in the wheel house, for review by observers.