HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Spearfishing communities not happy with new rules
Proposed rules limiting the practices of harpooning and spearfishing around the Fish Aggregate Devices (FAD) in Rarotonga have left the harpooning and spearfishing communities unhappy and largely left out of the consultation process in the establishment of the new rules.
According to the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), the new FAD rules have come about “to avoid potential conflict amongst fishers”. It states that a high concentration of artisanal fishermen, semi-commercial operators and game fishing operators operate freely around the FADs who all use “competing styles of fishing or economic interests”. The FAD Committee – established by MMR and chaired by Don Beer, were responsible for the draft rules. The key rules proposed that will affect the spearfishermen and harpooners are a ban on harpooning of fish within a 2 kilometre radius of the FAD and a complete ban on spearfishing at all FADs in Rarotonga. Ben Ponia, Secretary for Marine Resources, says the FADs are accounting for approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the catches in Rarotonga.
While a survey was conducted prior to the new rules being drafted, many harpooners and spearfishermen don’t feel they were fairly represented in the spread of respondents within this survey and now many are up-in-arms about the whole situation. One harpooner expressed, “There are more laws being put in place now against local fishermen than against purse-seiners or longliners! Why are we restricting methods for the local fishermen instead of promoting methods?”
Tiki Daniels, a spearfisherman who takes guided spearfishing tours as well as spearfishing for subsistence and who also has a thorough knowledge of the practice of harpooning, says he only just heard about the banning of spearfishing and harpooning around the FADs. Daniels believes the original conflict arose when one or two individuals who practice harpooning failed to show respect and cooperation for other fishermen around the FAD. “If these people had that respect for others, I don’t think we would have had a problem.” It is for this reason that he supports the idea of harpooners being required to take more care when operating near FADs if other vessels are around. “In terms of harpooning when there is no-one around – go for it! But if there are people around, have respect for others.” Many practicing harpooners feel that a 500 metre ban around FADs for harpooning is reasonable, however the proposed 2 kilometres is seen to be excessive. Daniels commented, “The fish are at the FAD. There is no point in going two kilometres away if there are no fish there.”
Daniels surprise however has been more at the outright ban on spearfishing near the FADs. “Spearfishing is something I love doing and I have taken a lot of people to the FADs for spearfishing. Normally when we go there, there is nobody there. Once the boats come in, for safety I normally take people [further out from the FAD].” Whilst Daniels agrees with the principal of safety where spearfishermen are concerned, he called an outright ban “unfair”.
There is a real question of ‘ownership and right’ to the FADs, as both the spearfishing and harpooning community feel they have an equal right to access the FADs, as long as reasonable safety precautions and general commonsense are both observed. Ponia says however this is not the case. “I’m interested to hear from the spearfishermen. The FAD is intended really for fishermen. There is an opportunity for [spearfishermen] to lodge their objections and come to us and say ‘we’d like to have access to the FAD as well’.” Ponia added that one solution could lie in designating or deploying separate FADs for spearfishing only. “That is something we’d be willing to do if there was enough support.”
For both local harpooners and spearfishermen, the view is that for them stakes are much higher than for charter boats who have clients guaranteeing an income – whether or not they catch fish. Harpooners say that ensuring they haul in a catch in order to cover the costs of gas, bait and ice is “a gamble.” Daniels added, “For people who run [charter fishing] businesses, once they have people on that boat they’re paid – whether they catch or not. For us – if we don’t catch, we’re done! We really need to put our heads together [on this] and come out with a better solution. If we don’t, somebody is going to be very disappointed, or somebody is going to be very hungry. Or a family is going to be very hungry.”
A petition is currently being circulated to stop the implementation of these rules regarding spearfishing and harpooning and so far has garnered support from many of Rarotonga’s top food and accommodation establishments including Muri Beach Resort, Pacific Resort, The Flametree Restaurant and Te Vara Nui Village. The petition will be presented to the Minister of Marine Resources Hon. Teina Bishop this week. One harpooner explained the reason for the support of restaurants. “The Mahimahi that [has been speared] – you cannot beat the quality of it because it is just so fresh. Longlining the fish has been dead for a night or two on the hook – it’s not as fresh as spearing. This is why a few of our major clients have been angry – now that they have fresh Mahimahi on the menu, they don’t want to go back.”
There definitely seems to be a consensus from those within the spearfishing and harpooning communities that there has been a real lack of consultation with them on the whole issue. Ponia said these rules are intended to be a ‘Code of Practice’ of sorts, however MMR will turn the rules into legal regulations if necessary. “What the committee has come up with is a final draft and they think this is a pretty good balance.” It appears however that there is a way to go before the entire fishing community of Rarotonga is satisfied. Daniels says the diversity of fishing practices should be celebrated and encouraged, not discouraged through certain rules and regulations. “We should all have the right to catch whatever, by any means… There has to be a compromise. [The new rules] are not fair to the people who practice harpooning and to the people who practice spearfishing.” -Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 608 21 March
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