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TIS Cook Islands
Tuna catche statistics from different spatial zones in the Cook Islands

At the 43rd Pacific Leaders Forum in 2012 Prime Minister Henry Puna formally launched the Cook Islands Marine Park. Now, 5 years later, it is time for the Cook Islands Government to finally make a decision on what sort of marine park we are going to have for our Marae Moana. We have heard that at the next sitting of Cabinet, on this coming Tuesday the 14th March, the Prime Minister and five MPs that make up this powerful group of decision makers will be having a very important discussion. These six individuals will decide what the size of the exclusion zones for foreign fishing boats in our Marae Moana Marine Park should be. We do hope the Ministers have been provided, and read, all the information they need to help with their decision.

As has been reported earlier, our Prime Minister has promised 50 nautical mile exclusion zones around all islands at several international meetings in recent years, including at Secretary Kerry’s State Department Ocean Conference, on June 17 2014. However, pressure from the Ministry of Marine Resources is apparently making him have second thoughts. And crunch time is approaching!

The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has been actively pushing for only 24 nautical miles exclusion zones. They also tell us they have consulted with the northern group about how big these no foreign fishing zones will be. However we now know that in fact the people were told that the protection zones would be increased from 12 miles to 24 miles. Options for larger zones were not discussed at all. Meanwhile we believe some of the outer islands consulted recently by our traditional leaders in the southern group have said they prefer 100 nautical mile zones not 24, in order to protect their fishing livelihoods.

If people of the Cook Islands want to have a say about the size of foreign fishing exclusion zones around our islands, now would be a good time to do so.

Information to help inform the choice includes:

• 1 nautical mile is 1.84km, or nearly double the distance of 1 kilometer, so don’t get confused!

• 24nm protected zones around each of our 15 islands = about 6% of our EEZ protected, with 94% still available to foreign fishing boats.
• 50 nautical mile zones = about 20% of our EEZ protected, with 80% still available to foreign fishing boats
• 50 nautical mile around all, but 100 nautical mile around Suwarrow, our National Park, = 25% protected, with about 75% avaiable to foreign fishing boats
• 100nm around each islands = about 45% of our EEZ protected, with 55% available to foreign fishing boats.

In all four cases mentioned above, the majority (over 50%) of Cook Islands EEZ will still remain open to foreign fishing vessels.

The Secretary for Marine Resources claims that if we have closed zones larger than 24 miles, the foreign fishery cannot survive and we will lose the money we are currently receiving from fishing licences. This is not true, as can be determined from a 2015 report prepared by the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) for MMR. This report was only made available because of the Purse Seine Select Committee process late last year. The graphs in the picture from p.5 of this report show that most of the tuna is caught in the 100-200km zone (further than 50 nautical miles from the islands). Note the scale on the horizontal for each graph is different for each zone, so read the numbers on the horizontal scale (bottom of each graph) to see how much fish is caught in each zone.

So, if we close the closer areas, within 50 miles, for example, the foreign boats will have to fish further away from the islands, in locations where they are still catching most of their fish. This is unlikely to have an impact on their catches, and the Government can still collect fisheries licence revenue as they do now. Meanwhile, as the fish within that 50 mile zone will no longer be caught by foreign boats, some of these will eventually migrate closer to the islands, which will be great for local fishermen.

If you feel strongly about this issue you could contact Cabinet, and your own Member of Parliament, letting them know your preference, 24, 50, or 100 miles. That will, hopefully, help guide their discussion on Tuesday (14th March 2017).

Contact email addresses for cabinet ministers
aukino.tairea@cookislands.gov.ck (Secretary to Cabinet)

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An online dictionary defines a petrol head as a person who is overly reliant on the use of their car, resisting any suggestion to use other means of transport. As readers will know from our articles in the past, that hardly sounds like a description of an employee of Te Ipukarea Society, as we actively promote cycling and electric vehicles as a preferred means of transport. However, it seems we do now have our very own Petrel Head!

Petrels are tube-nosed seabirds, and a number of different petrel species are known from the Cook Islands. In order to learn more about these birds, and how to survey them, Te Ipukarea Society project officer Alanna Smith has recently spent 2 weeks on Little Barrier Island off Auckland with a number of petrel experts, an experience she says she will never forget. This is her story.

I had never been to an island that was solely dedicated to being a nature reserve, so I could tell right from the beginning that this was going to be quite the experience. Little Barrier Islands lies 80 km north of Auckland city on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf. It is one of New Zealand’s pest-free nature reserves, free of all introduced predators except wasps. This makes it a very important sanctuary for many of New Zealand’s threatened and native species including the Kiwi, Kakapo and Tuatara. You can only travel to Little Barrier Island on an authorised vessel, a permit from DOC to land on the island is also required, along with a strict bio-security check of all clothing and items being brought onto the island.

Once I had finally arrived onto LBI after an hour’s boat ride from sand-spit harbour, it did not take long to realise I really was in a garden of Eden. Straight away I could see the Kaka and Kakariki birds flying overhead, the Tui and Bell birds were trying to out sing each other and of course seeing the Kokako bouncing across the ground like lambs was very special to see.

My first week got off to an intense start. Having to retrieve 20 odd acoustic recorders scattered across LBI rugged terrain was quite the challenge, not to mention the rows of cutty grass we had to push through to get to them. We don’t have this awful cutty grass back home so of course my first two surveys saw myself wearing shorts and a singlet, as I would have done so back home. This outfit was quickly changed for the remanding surveys.

During that first week, I was also introduced to the NZ Black Petrel. I got a real hands-on experience holding these big seabirds and carefully learnt how to direct them in and out of their burrows. After handling the bird, banding it if needed and checking its nest for eggs or chicks I was surprised that when putting the bird back in its burrow it did not turn around and attack us for messing with its nest and manhandling it. I just assumed it would have, as I haven’t had great experiences with our local chickens at home.

My second week on the island involved conducting a survey on the NZ Storm Petrel. The NZ Storm Petrel was thought to be extinct back in 2003 until it was rediscovered in 2013 by a local fisherman. It was interesting to see how the NZ Storm petrel were caught, which involved the use of high beam lights, mesmerising the small petrel bird towards the ground. It was great to see the little NZ Storm petrel up close. They were a very quiet bird and did not screech once when they were being banded or measured. I had the important role of placing these little Storm petrels into their new manmade burrows.

Walking by myself in the dark to these burrows some 200 odd meters away however did come with some interesting encounters that I’d never forget. For instance, one encounter involved a mysterious flying bird, which flew onto my back as I was walking back to the rest of my team. I got the shock of my life and started running for about 20 m, and then proceeded at a fast walk back to my work colleagues who had no idea of the commotion I had just been through. My second encounter however occurred as I was walking towards the burrows and saw what I thought was a kiwi but turned out to be a Kakapo, right there in the open cut grass area, a good 3 m away from me. We both stood still for a good 8 seconds before the Kakapo realised I had actually spotted her, she then darted off into the nearby bush.

After having arrived back home I’m now looking forward to utilizing my skills learnt on LBI, particularly those skills on the Black Petrel Survey. For instance, (funding dependent) I hope to potentially work on a new project that will involve the surveying and monitoring of the Herald petrel population, which can be found on the Maungatea Bluff on Rarotonga. Knowing so little about this species on Rarotonga is a major obstacle in terms of formulating a conservation plan, if in fact one were needed. There has been little recent activity in terms of seabird projects within the Cook Islands. So, with my new passion and drive for seabird conservation, I hope to jumpstart a bit more excitement within this area, particularly among our youth. A very big thank you to the Arcadia Foundation for supporting my travel costs, and of course to Chris Gaskin from Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust for the training opportunity and Dan Burgin from Wildlife Management International (NZ) for being patient with me during these tiring hikes and showing me the ways around Black Petrel handling and surveying.

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