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The Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) says this month’s transhipment activity in Rarotonga was fully compliant with all laws and regulations of the longline fishery.
Seven longline vessels transferred catch to a carrier vessel that could be seen anchored offshore at Panama from the 9-17 June.
Authorisation for the transhipment was granted by the Ministry to be conducted in the port of Rarotonga monitored by a Compliance Team of Fisheries Officers.
Senior Fisheries Officer Andrew Jones said, “The longline vessels are authorised to fish within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) outside 50 nautical miles from each island and have been fishing in the northern Cook Islands waters since around mid-March. All catch from the vessels was transferred to the carrier vessel, resulting in a total transhipment of around 850 metric tonnes of mainly albacore tuna, the target species of the fishery.”
The monitoring of unloaded catches by the Ministry validates catch logsheets vessel captains are required to submit. This process helps protect the integrity of the Cook Islands Longline Quota Management System (QMS) which was introduced two years ago to improve sustainable management of tuna stocks.
The week-long operation also provided the opportunity to have both the carrier vessel and the longline vessels fully inspected for compliance and that all authorisations and documentation were onboard.
Five Fisheries Officers boarded the carrier vessel for three days at a time, spending 18 hours in two-person shifts to monitor the transfer of catch to the carrier vessels and supplies to the fishing vessels. The teams remained on board the vessel overnight at the end of daily operations.
“The operation was successful from an MMR perspective as Officers were able to confirm complete compliance with the QMS and verify all fish product was legally caught and documented. The vessel operators and their agents were fully cooperative and the Ministry’s Compliance Team did an excellent job in monitoring the activities in a fully transparent matter, with the vessels in full view of Rarotonga,” said Jones.
MMR has developed a rigorous Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) system to ensure that the amount of albacore and bigeye caught can be compared to set quota limits.
In January 2017, the Cook Islands became the first Pacific Island nation to introduce a QMS to control catch of albacore and bigeye tuna and received strong regional support to transition from an effort-based management approach, which limited the number of longline vessels that could be licensed to fish each year, to a system that limits catch by volume.
The new system set science-based hard limits on the total catch for the two-tuna species and requires foreign and domestic longline fishing companies to purchase quota.
Each calendar year the albacore total allowable catch in Cook Islands waters is 9750 tonnes, while the limit for bigeye is 3,500 tonnes.
Development of the Cook Islands QMS took several years to complete in collaboration with fisheries scientists, fisheries advisers, and fisheries managers from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC) and New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). A QMS database was also developed to record and manage catch under the system.
The QMS regulations marked a significant step forward in allowing the Cook Islands to commit to catch limits agreed to by Pacific Island nations through the Tokelau Arrangement for the Management of the South Pacific Longline Fishery and harvest strategies being developed by the region’s fisheries management organisation, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
Under the FFA Future of Fisheries Roadmap endorsed in 2015, Pacific Island Forum leaders committed to replacing effort controls (access/licence fees) on fishing with catch-based (quota) systems within 10 years. A fishery based on catch limits under a QMS is globally regarded as best practice and is also supported by international environmental groups for being a more robust mechanism to conserve tuna stocks.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS MINISTRY OF MARINE RESOURCES/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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