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CI Times Weekly | Current Issue 427| 16 December2011

Fisheries Compliance Unit Established
The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has announced the formal establishment of a Compliance Unit to enforce fisheries laws in the Cook Islands. The announcement comes as the ministry wrapped up the second of two training workshops conducted by New Zealander Pete Southen, an advisor in surveillance provisions for the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.
The first workshop was held in February of this year and was an overall introduction to fisheries compliance. The second, held over the last week, covered the planning processes and considerations required to successfully support the conduct of appropriate compliance interventions across a range of differing fisheries. Southen said the workshop also included practical training in how the officers should best equip themselves for the various situations they will be confronted with out in the field.
Secretary for Marine Resources Ben Ponia said that this second and final training workshop completes approximately one year’s work in establishing the unit. He said, “From here on in we feel we have the basis to formally establish our Compliance Unit. We’ll be monitoring not only the offshore illegal fishing activities, but [also] our borders at the airport [and] checking fishing boats in the harbour.” Ponia added that as part of this final training each member of the compliance unit has been provided with over $1000 worth of gear needed to conduct operations. “They now have not only the uniforms, but the torches, the radios and what not.” The kits were funded partly by the New Zealand government, with some components funded locally through MMR projects.
The establishment of the unit comes in response to the recent expansion by government of commercial fisheries operations in the Cook Islands. Southen commented, “Fisheries compliance exists to support fisheries management. The idea behind fisheries compliance is that when there is an issue with regard to sustainability, or fish supplies are running out because of overfishing, a measure is brought in generally to limit the amount of fish that is being taken. [Fisheries compliance] supports those measures.” Support is through education of the public as well as ensuring the compliance measures in place are adhered to.
Ponia expressed that there was a danger of overfishing as a result of government allowing increased commercial fishing in the Cook Islands, but he added that the danger was also the targeting of restricted species, such as the shark. “We now have a lot more longliners working in our waters and that raises the opportunity for more illegal shark-finning to take place. So we’ll be paying particular attention to the shark fin trade.” The compliance unit will also focus on local issues such as preventing the illegal harvesting and smuggling of Paua, as well as regulations for the monitoring of the raui.
Both Southen and Ponia emphasised the partnership of MMR and Maritime Police as vital to the success of fisheries compliance in the Cook Islands, which was also addressed in the workshop. Senior Sergeant Tuariki Henry of the Police Patrol Boat Te Kukupa said, “From the perspective of the Maritime Police, this is good training. It’s mainly to do with the operation and planning. Without a plan, you fail, [so it will] strengthen our future operations.” Ponia added that the two parties can work together and learn from each other. “We have fisheries intelligence, they have policing skills - it comes together nicely.”
Southen expressed that the workshop went “exceptionally well. The guys were really engaged and really focussed and willing to learn. You can see the growth of the guys has been significant since last time. I think that really they have embraced what I did this week and it will only get better in the future.” He was also confident that the Compliance Unit here in the Cook Islands meets international standards. “My personal viewpoint is that these guys are ready to take on basically anything. They’ve got the willingness, they’ve got the expertise amongst them. They are a varied bunch, so you’ve got significant knowledge and capability already there both through [involvement of] ex-police and also the balance of knowing about the fisheries. That blend is important to actually moving forward.” -Ngariki Ngatae

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