Pacific
26 May 2016

BirdLife Partner joins the protest against purse seine fishing in Cook Islands waters

Paramount chief Dame Margaret Karika Ariki laeds the protest march
By Te Ipukarea Society

The state of the marine ecosystems and the huge pressures on them from climate change, pollution and overfishing are big issues for BirdLife Partners around the world.  This is especially the case for Bird Life’s Partner in the Cook Islands, the Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), which is playing a leading role in the growing opposition to purse seine fishing, particularly of the kind associated with Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs).

TIS believes that these FADs, used in conjunction with purse seine fishing, threatens fishing stocks and should be banned in Cook Islands waters. The fishery there is supposed to target skipjack tuna Katsuwonus pelamis. However, FADs attract not only skipjack but also juvenile yellowfin Thunnus albacares and Bigeye Tuna Thunnus obesus which are not as resilient to high fishing pressures. Bigeye Tuna in particular is highly vulnerable, as the fish is slow to mature; juveniles caught by purse seiners using FADs have no chance to breed. Only 16 percent of Bigeye Tuna’s original stock in the Western Central Pacific Ocean remains.

On April 15th 2016, the third anti-purse seine fishing protest march was held in Avarua, Rarotonga, almost a year to the day after the first march was held last year. Organised by Cook Island traditional leaders, TIS was a proud supporter, alongside local MP's, fishermen and concerned members of the public. Paramount chief Makea Karika Margaret Ariki (now Dame Margare), still active in her 97th year, led the march. It is estimated that a total of 250 people made the effort to join the march on a Friday afternoon.

A petition asking for a ban on purse seining, signed by over half of the voting population of the country is still sitting in the Cook Island Parliament, untouched 10 months after being presented. There is real concern that the Government is not listening to the outpouring of public feeling: it has continued pushing to finalise a deal which will allow the EU to bring four “Super Seiners” into Cook Islands waters. These ships are some of the largest purse seine vessels in the world and are known to fish exclusively on FADs. Potential impacts on our pelagic ecosystems could be disastrous.