HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Large Ocean Island State- the Challenge for Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR)
Sir Albert Henry, a founding father of the Cook Islands was one of the Pacific visionary leaders that lobbied the United Nations to create the large ocean island state by establishing the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982.
Thirty years later this legacy is bearing fruit.
The Law of the Sea treaty gave small island nations the rights to claim the ocean resources beyond their territorial seas, a further 200 nautical miles. Previously claims were exerted under the influence of naval power. The Cook Islands EEZ area is 1.98 million sq.km.
During the 43rd Pacific Forum meeting the Cook Islands will sign the last two (of five) maritime boundaries, with Kiribati and Niue and join one other country Nauru in the Pacific to have completely etched out its outer EEZ borders.
The legal basis and coordinates for ocean boundaries are defined in the Territorial Seas and Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1977 and its’ ‘Outer Limits’ amendment of 2011 and ‘Contiguous Zone’ amendment of 2012, administered by the MMR. Once the coordinates have been lodged with the UN, a process that is currently underway, these will become the basis for settling any jurisdictional disputes such as incursions of illegal fishing.
Whilst island States were granted ownership over the ocean resources, historically foreign fishing fleets have dictated licensing terms by bargaining between States to the lowest denominator. But by working collaboratively and through the regional efforts of SPC and FFA, the tables have turned. Fishing companies are being integrated with onshore landing and processing to capture greater share of revenues. MMR which manages a sizeable fleet of up to seventy fishing vessels and 1,200 fishermen must now adopt policies to move the fleets towards onshore integration.
With ownership comes stewardship. Under the UN Fish Stocks Agreement to conserve migrating and straddling stocks, and after six years of negotiating, the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was established. It covers an area stretching from Japan to French Polynesia and is possibly the largest marine managed area in the world. The Commission measures are binding upon its members and this provides the MMR with, among other things, the possibility of blacklisting any fishing vessel caught fishing illegally in its waters.
Critical to stewardship is enforcement. The Cook Islands would be unable to monitor and control its large EEZ without the surveillance assets provided through defence cooperation, particular the QUAD nations (NZ, Australia, US and France). This task is becoming increasingly sophisticated and the most recent operation involved six ships and four aircraft.
Incidentally the Law of the Sea treaty also allows states to claim the seabed minerals associated with its seafloor. Normally this is based on the EEZ outer limits but the Cook Islands is able to adopt the Manihiki plateau as a new undersea baseline to extend its continental shelf by 413,000 sq.km. This claim was lodged at the UN in 2009, defended in 2012 and a final defence is likely in 2013.
Human interactions are more complex in coastal waters and applying compatible conservation measures with those in the oceans will be demanding. On Rarotonga, pollution and coral degradation are amongst the greatest threats to reef fish and reef shark populations. Nutrients from sewage presents a concern to public health. The raui or marine reserves lack legislative enforcement and ongoing poaching is a frustration to the community and MMR who have worked with the traditional leaders to establish these areas. A gazette to ban the trade of sea cucumber remains in-place until management plans can be formulated to prevent boom-bust harvesting.
The MMR Policy and Legal Services division has the onerous task of amalgamating a variety of legal and policy frameworks. The main piece of legislation is the Marine Resources Act 2005 which provides the Ministry with its statutory powers to manage all living marine resources. A current legislative review of the Marine Act is being coordinated by the divisional head Mr Peter Graham and assisted by two local lawyers Mr Mike Mitchell and Ms Mathilda Tairea along with Prof. William Ederson from the FFA.
In order to be proactive to the ever changing challenges of a large ocean island State requires a broad legislative frameworks. Amendments to the Marine Act will seek to enhance compatibility with WCPFC conservation and management measures, Flag State responsibility and Port State measures, seafood safety competency, marine reserves and parks, investment capacity and local fishery plans.

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.