HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Record purse seine provide $1.2m windfall

The Cook Islands has recorded its highest purse seine catches with 12,000 mtof primarily skipjack tuna caught under the U.S Fishery Treaty during the 2011/12 licensing period.
This will provide government with an additional $1.2 million dollars of revenue.
It brings a total of two million dollars of fisheries revenue collected by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR)since the start of the financial year, five months ago.
In 2011 the MMR commissioned the French space agency (CSL) to conduct a skipjack tuna stock assessment. CSL estimated 180,000 mtof skipjack tuna,mainly in the northern latitudes.
“Although the current level of fishing has significantly vamped up the skipjack catches in our waters,it is still within the sustainable limits suggested by the stock assessment ” says MMR Secretary, Ben Ponia.
Ponia’s main concern at the moment is ensuring that sufficient resources are provided to MMR and Police to meetthe country’s obligations for proper management and surveillance of the fishery.
“The offshore fishery has expanded to twenty thousand tonnes a year and revenue is also substantially increased. Yet the ourbudget in 2011 was actually reduced. We need more local scientists, observers and police maritime patrols to maintain the expansion of the fishery”.
“Our office accommodation arrangements remain woefully inadequate” adds Ponia.
Historically the purse seine vessels concentrated fishing for skipjack tuna in the western Pacific amongst PNA countries with catches averaging 1.5 million tonnes. Annual catches in the Cook Islands were just 400 mt apart from a spike of 3,000 mt caught during the El-Nino of 2001.
For the past 25 years the U.S Fisheries Treaty has allowedthe U.S purse seine fleet to fish anywhere in the Pacific. A new treaty is being negotiated to raise the treaty value from US$18 million to US$63 million dollars per year. This would triplethe amount paid per tonne for future skipjack tuna catches.
Unfortunately for the Cook Islands the 2011/13 skipjack tuna catches does not fall under the new treaty arrangements. Given that the landed catch value was $24 million dollars the MMR believes the current payout of $1.2 million was more favourable to the fishing companies.
The new US treaty will commit the non-PNA countries such as the Cook Islands to provide at least 300 days to the US fleet.
In 2011/12 there were 500 fishing days spent in the Cook Island’s waters and so MMR expects that there will be excess days of purse seining available outside of the US treaty. It proposes to provide excess days to the PNA vessel day scheme which charges vessels up to US$10,000 per day to fish.
During the Forum Leaders retreat held in Aitutaki the leaders endorsed the principle that all countries will receive some benefit from the U.S treaty and that 15 per cent of the monies be distributed equally. The remaining 85 per cent is allocated according to catches.
The Cook Island delegation to the U.S treaty negotiations is led by Mr Mike Mitchell, a senior adviser to the MMR Secretary and a former diplomat and Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Mitchell also serves as the Chair of the non-PNA grouping.
Forty purse seine vessels are licensed under the U.S treaty and 16 vessels fished in the Cook Islands during the 2011/12 licensing period.
In 2010 the MMR proposed an exploratory fishing program for skipjack in order to assess sustainable catch limits. But the recent level of catches provides sufficient coverage and MMR believe it is no longer necessary to pursue exploratory fishing.
Ponia and Joshua Mitchell the Director of Offshore Fisheries are currently attending the annual session of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Manila. One of the key issues being discussed is establishing a limit on purse seine catches. Under the proposed measure, all countries will be required to submit a quota to the WCPFC by November 2013.
“Our priority now is to designate the purse seine fishery and establish a total allowable catch for the Tuna Commission” Says Ponia

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- News Briefs

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