HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 595: 21 December2011

Cook Islands Observer Programme achieves 750 Days in Nine Months
Since April 2011 the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) fisheries observers have spent 750 days on board fishing vessels operating in the Cook Islands waters, recording catches. This is a record number of observing trips for the region.
In part this has only been possible because the MMR has trained up a pool of Samoan based observers, after failing to recruit Cook Islanders to go to sea.
With the growth in fishing effort in the Cook Islands EEZ there was a requirement to increase the amount of observers coverage in our National Observer programme. The Cook Islands are obligated to obtain from these vessels 5% minimum observer coverage as a management measure that has been passed by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
The Cook Islands has now exceeded its 5% threshold and is one of the highest achievers in the region. In previous years the MMR has struggled to even achieve one hundred days of observers at sea.
In February 2011 the MMR with the assistance of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) spent 4 to 5 weeks training observers in Apia, Samoa. Seven Samoans and one Cook Islander completed the training workshop and gained the status of “qualified long line Observers”. Another Cook Islander has grown the ranks to nine qualified observers.
Observers are trained in specifies identification, observer report writing, marine pollution, data collection forms, fish measurements, compliance issues, navigation, species of special interest, first aid, sea safety, fire fighting and other skills.
An observer mainly collects accurate catch and fishing effort information. This is used by fisheries managers for science or compliance purposes to evaluate fish stocks and to ensure vessels are fishing within the law. Observers’ records must therefore be entirely independent to those the vessel collects.
Because observers collect catch and species data each time the vessel fishes they can also collect accurate times, positions and fishing effort data, that cannot be collected from export data, landings data or even port sampling data.
Observers are not enforcement officers. Enforcement of the law is usually the responsibility of Fishery Officers especially employed for the job. Observers have no powers to order the master to do anything except to request reasonable co-operation and assistance from the ship’s officers and crew to do their observer work successfully. However, they usually have responsibility to record offences as part of observer duties.
The role of the observer, then, is not to provide advice on laws, or to enforce them, but to ensure that good quality catch and effort data are collected on their host vessel. These data are often the most valuable source of information to assess fish stocks and design management measures, particularly when a long time-series of data is available. Observers’ data must also be accurate enough for enforcement officers to use if needed. Therefore, observers should see their role as part of a quality assurance programme to ensure that commercial fishing vessels supply high quality catch and effort data.
The majority of the vessels permitted to fish in Cook Islands waters operate from American Samoa, most observer placements are made from Pago Pago.
Observers are placed onboard the domestic commercial operators as well as the fish carrier vessels that unload on Rarotonga.
The MMR Observer Coordinator, Mr Andrew Jones, organises the placement of the observers. If a fishing vessel is departing from Pago Pago then the MMR Coordinator will organise the observer to fly from Samoa to Pago to board the fishing vessel. The observers are also paid a daily fee of 75 dollars. These costs are reimbursed by the fishing company.
Andrew Jones who is also the Senior Fisheries Officer in MMR would like to see more Cook Islanders taking up the opportunity to work as fisheries observers “we will be looking at increasing our observer numbers in the near future and encourage those who enjoy the open sea life to apply.”

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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