Privy Council case on purse seine fishery expansion finally being heard.

Privy Council case on purse seine fishery expansion finally being heard.

Privy Council case on purse seine fishery expansion finally being heard.

(As published in Cook Islands News 13th November 2021)

It has been quite a long time since we started  discussions with the Cook Islands government on the expansion of the purse seine industrial fishery in the Cook Islands.

Many of you may recall the protest marches in 2015, with Dame Margaret Karika leading from the front, and Doreen Boggs with the megaphone, and the chant “Auraka e kupenga!”.

Then there was the petition calling for a ban on purse seine fishing, which was sent out to all our populated islands.  More than half of the voting public in the Cook Islands signed the petition in 2015, and it was tabled in Parliament in December of that year.  This was only after Parliamentary staff had checked the credibility of the 4,136 petition signatures,  which took several months after the petition was presented to parliament.

The Government established a select committee in 2016. The structure of the Committee means that Government always has the casting vote in whether to abide by the prayers of the petitioners.  Nonetheless, a select committee is a useful forum for debate and in this case, documents previously unavailable to Te Ipukarea Society at last saw the light of day. One in particular, by the South Pacific Commission in response to a request from Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), detailed fisheries catch rates inside and outside potential fishery exclusion zones.  This report allowed us to show that revenue from fisheries would not be impacted by a larger exclusion zone, resulting in the declaration by Government to impose 50 nautical mile zones around each of our islands where industrial fishing was banned.

As the select committee did not produce the required result for the petitioners, it was agreed to take the case to the Cook Islands High Court.  The case was heard in July 2017,  with Te Ipukarea Society and the Aronga Mana of Te au o Tonga, through William Framhein, seeking a judicial review of the issuing of new licences.  We lost that case, but appealed to the Cook Islands Court of Appeal. This was heard in 2018.

The Court of Appeal, presided over by 3 New Zealand judges, sat in 2018. This time we won on some very important points of law, i.e. the Government, unlawfully, failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and failed to apply the precautionary approach. Government was directed to obtain and consider an EIA within 12 months, and to publish the results.

The Government  appealed that decision to the highest court available for the Cook Islands, which is the Privy Council in England.

At the same time, William Framhein appealed the decision from the Appeal Court which basically stated that the Aronga Mana and Te Ipukarea Society, are not considered significant stakeholders in the fishery.  It is difficult to understand how they could come to that conclusion, given we were all in court, and winning important decisions based on our arguments.  In addition, Te Ipukarea Society often receives emails from assessors asking for our input into Marine Stewardship Council assessments for fisheries in our region.

So, at last we are coming up to the Privy Council hearing.  Due to COVID, it will be held virtually on 17th November, 7pm to 9pm UK time, which will be 9am to 11am on Wednesday the 17th November in the Cook Islands .  You will be able to watch the proceedings on line by going to this link and finding the correct case.

If anybody here in Rarotonga wants to drop in to the Te Ipukarea Society office to join us in watching the live stream you are most welcome!