Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Clarification regarding Offshore Fishing

In our story "TIS Position on the Exploratory Fishing Issue" we mentioned legislation that “makes exploratory fishing exempt from many ordinary requirements to protect our marine life.” We were referring to the Marine Resources (Large Pelagic Longline Fishery) Order 2011 Section 2 (5) of the Schedule which says the Fishery Plan in the Schedule does not apply to exploratory fishing. We want to know why exploratory fishing was excluded from all the rules and conditions of other long line fishing activities.

Atiu, Takutea, Aitutaki - Three Key Biodiversity Areas

Red Tailed Tropic Bird – is present on Takutea in globally significant numbers. Photo courtesy of the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust.
TIS visited the islands of Atiu and Aitutaki to raise awareness in the community about the identification of their islands as Key Biodiversity Areas and Important Bird Areas (KBA/IBA).
KBAs and IBAs mark the places on earth that have global importance for conservation. They must meet one or more internationally accepted criteria. In simple terms for the Cook Islands, a place can qualify as a KBA/IBA if it contains globally threatened plants or animals, unique species or globally significant populations of a species.
Atiu island (29km2) has a population of 570 people who have responsibility over the biodiversity on Atiu and the nearby uninhabited island of Takutea (1km2).
Atiu was identified as a Key Biodiversity Area and Important Bird Area (KBA/IBA) because of five bird species, five landsnails, an endemic plant and two species of marine turtle.
Bird species which qualify Atiu as an Important Bird Area are the endemic Atiu Swiftlet (Collocalia sawtelli), the endangered Rimatara Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii), the endangered Rarotonga Flycatcher (Pomarea dimidiate) and the endemic Cook Islands Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus rarotongensis). The vulnerable Bristle Thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) is a candidate bird species for the Atiu IBA.
Takutea is an important bird area because of its globally significant population of Red Tailed Tropic Bird.
1600 birds were counted in 2008.
Aitutaki qualifies as a KBA/IBA because of two bird species, six landsnails, an endemic spider and a coral reef fish, the Humphead Wrasse.
The Aitutaki Island Council asked TIS for help with protecting a bird refuge and marine protected area. They also want their bird populations monitored.
Work to identify KBAs and IBAs in the Cook Islands is supported by the Critical Ecosystems Parntership Fund (CEPF) through Birdlife International.  CEPF is a joint initiative of l’Agence Francaise de Developpement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. The focus of CEPF is the conservation of threatened species and other globally important species.
The uninhabited sand cay of Takutea is 21 kilometers north-west of Atiu. Photo courtesy of Air Rarotonga.


Marine Protection & Sanitation - an Update on WatSan

The WatSan programme is making good progress to upgrade sanitation systems in Muri village. Tekao Herrmann of WatSan advised that already, 20 properties with septic tanks in good condition have had their septic tanks retrofitted with  “biofilters”.
Biofilters are scientifically proven to advance the treatment of septic tank effluent by up to 40%.
“Another 200+ properties will either need their septic tanks replaced or will require the installation of packaged treatment plants because the existing system is inappropriate or failing," says Herrmann.
"The replacement tanks will also have biofilters installed," Herrmann adds. 
TIS Programme Manager, Jacqui Evans, who previously worked on sanitation policy at the Ministry of Health says she thinks the programme will lead to improvements in Cook Islands sanitation overall.
“Simply getting this work done is improving the technical knowledge of those involved in this programme,” says Evans. 
“This will have long-lasting effects,” she explains.
WatSan is advertising for tenders to upgrade sanitation systems on the other 200+ properties in Muri.
There is also a high-level tender to perform a cost-benefit analysis examining the various options for sanitation on Rarotonga. Options include:
1. Centralized sewerage where sewage is piped to a central place, treated and then disposed either in the ocean outside the reef or on forest/plantations inland,
2. Cluster systems where several properties share one treatment system
3. On-site treatment where each property treats and disposes of their wastewater on-site (the current arrangement except for Tepuka-Tereora) and
4. A combination of cluster and on-site systems.
The deadline for submission of high-level tenders has closed and recommendations have been put forward to the tender committee.
The WatSan programme is implemented by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning and funded by NZAid and AusAID.
The programme was devised because of concerns over increasing development on Rarotonga and Aitutaki's coastline and the effect of inadequately treated wastewater on the health of the coastal lagoon and coral reef.
TIS is represented on the Programme Steering Group along with other government and non-government stakeholders. 
“We’re pleased with the progress,“ says Evans.
“This is not an easy process but the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning is doing really well,” she says.
“It’s largely because of their active and dedicated Acting Secretary, Donye Numa, their Programme Coordinator Ken MacDonald, and their fabulous team, Tai Nooapii, Tekao Herrmann, and Paul Maoate.”
Miss Cook Islands and Miss South Pacific 2006 Krystina Kauvai was the education coordinator but she has now moved to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management.
Evans says the programme will assist with building the capacity needed to inspect and enforce the Public Health Sewage Regulations 2008.
“This is needed urgently,” she says.
Evans says she is uncertain if enforcement capacity will be improved through supporting the Ministry of Health or by altering the regulations so that MOIP has responsibility of regulating construction and Health the sanitation responsibility.
“Whatever the case, building capacity for enforcement is an essential part of the programme,” she says.

TIS Position on the Exploratory Fishing Issue

7th February 2012. It is obvious that the people of the Cook Islands are very concerned about possible overfishing of our tuna and associated impacts on other marine life and our environment. These concerns have been expressed in local media and at public meetings. Petitions were also signed in the northern group islands.
TIS raised the issue of purse seine fishing at our National Economic Summit and through our campaign “Te Ki o to Tatou Moana ei Angai rai ia Tatou” (Our ocean of fish is for the sustenance & nourishment of our people). We note that government has not approved the issuance of licenses for exploratory purse seine fishing following the proposal by the Ministry of Marine Resources.
However, the government has approved the issuance of exploratory long-line fishing licenses. TIS members are deeply disappointed that the Ministry of Marine Resources has not responded to our questions regarding provisions to protect sharks, whether the trans-shipment of tuna is allowed and why there is only 5% observer coverage under the exploratory licenses issued.
MMR say the exploratory licences are so we can collect accurate data.  This will not be possible under the lax conditions of these exploratory licences.  We should be thinking more along the lines of the regional fisheries commission for Antarctic waters, which requires 2 observers on every boat with an exploratory fishing licence.  That is the way to get reliable data.
We are also disappointed that the Ministry of Marine Resources has not called meetings with us, as agreed, to share information about measures to ensure fishing is done sustainably. We have learnt too, that under current legislation, exploratory fishing is exempt from many ordinary requirements to protect our marine life.
Fishing is important in the Pacific.  It is as important as life itself.
The world’s oceans are in crisis. With 70% of the fish stock depleted through over-exploitation, international fishing fleets have turned their attention to the Pacific as their source of fish either legally or illegally. Often it is our governments themselves who are the exploiters by accepting short term cash incentives and ignoring the long term catastrophic effects on our people and our ocean.
Local tuna fishermen, some who have fished in Rarotonga for over 30 years have reported a steady decline in the number and size of tuna caught around Rarotonga. Some fishermen report this problem in the other islands as well. 

Because tuna caught in the Cook Islands makes up only a small percentage of the total catch in the Pacific region (MMR says this is only 0.3%) and because we license only 5% of long-liners licensed in the region, we acknowledge that a significant reason for the reported decline in catch is over-fishing outside the Cook Islands. However, we do believe that despite the Cook Islands relatively small contribution to the problem, we can also be a role model in sustainability. We cannot demand other countries to fish sustainably if we are not doing so ourselves.
Tuna is a migratory species and so its management is a regional concern, requiring collaboration between all countries in the Pacific. We would like to see more being done at both the national and regional level to manage this precious resource.

Marine Park Brief

12th February 2012. A Marine Park meeting was held 9th February.  The meeting shared information on Key Biodiversity Areas, Important Bird Areas and Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Areas. The meeting also developed a work plan that will be implemented until the declaration of the Marine Park at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in August. There will also be a big meeting March 12-14 where international experts will present on how they can help. Park still does not include Northern EEZ where tuna long-liners fish.