Cook Islands: Settlement on Breach of Shark Regulations
Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands
24. February 2016
SETTLEMENT ON BREACH OF SHARK REGULATIONS
A settlement of $110,000 was received by Government last year by the owners of a foreign flagged licensed longline fishing vessel found with shark carcasses on board.
The Ministry of Marine Resources confirms the case is the first recorded breach of the Shark Regulations which came into force in December 2012 under the 2005 Marine Resources Act.
Eight shark carcasses were found on the vessel during a boarding and inspection conducted under Operation Calypso on September 16, 2014. Cook Islands Fisheries Officers Anika Hunter and Ruiruia David were on board the HMNZS Otago which was conducting surveillance patrols inside the northern group waters.
The fishing vessel’s licence was immediately suspended until the conclusion of the settlement and has not been issued a new licence since that time. The company involved was cooperative during settlement negotiations and advice was sought from Crown Law and Cabinet during the settlement process. The Cook Islands is one of just a few nations to have shark conservation regulations. According to the shark regulations no vessel is permitted to catch, capture, target or otherwise intentionally engage in fishing for any shark. The regulations state that a minimum fine of $100,000 and a maximum fine of $250,000 can be imposed for each offence.
On the day of the incident, Hunter and David were part of six member boarding party that carried out an inspection of the vessel and its documentation. The log sheets and a search of the vessel revealed that sharks had been retained on board. It was noted that the captain had recorded that he was retaining sharks in the catch log sheets and the sharks were caught outside Cook Islands waters. Sharks can be caught as by-catch and MMR’s records of catches prior to 2013 show that longliners have not targeted sharks intentionally.
Acting Director of Offshore Fisheries Andrew Jones says following the collection of evidence including vessel monitoring system (VMS) data, photos and observer data, MMR’s Legal & Policy Division pursued settlement negotiations.
“Last year’s settlement should send a clear message to all licenced vessels in the Cook Islands that the retention of sharks or shark parts will not be tolerated in our waters,” says Jones.
“We are not going to take it easy on licensed vessels. This vessel belongs to a fleet that has been fishing here and all fleets have been informed of the regulations that apply in our waters.”
Jones says the incident and settlement has been reported to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission as required as a member of the regional fisheries management organisation.
“In previous years we had an incident in which the government was accused of allowing a vessel to get away with retaining sharks. However, this is untrue. In that case the regulations had not been breached, leaving MMR unable to proceed further. We will take every measure to pursue breaches of the regulations, as with any other infringement.”
MMR Secretary Ben Ponia says the incident was dealt with as part of the overall management of the longline fishery and the fleets that are licensed to fish within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Operation Calypso is one of several joint regional maritime surveillance operations conducted each year to support the management of the fishery.
“At the time of the incident Te Kukupa was in Australia undergoing a full refurbishment and MMR would like to thank the participation in HMNZS Otago for their assistance in helping the Cook Islands combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities,” says Ponia.
The Cook Islands also has an observer programme with one of the highest levels of coverage in the region.
“Our observers are placed on longline vessels to collect data and are an important component of management, control and surveillance measures for the fishery. As highlighted at last year’s Tuna Commission, being an observer can be a very dangerous job, and new measures are being introduced across the region to improve observer safety.”
Source: Ministry of Marine Resources Cook Islands