By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV, Port Moresby
Cook Islanders have again taken to the streets to protest against the controversial Spanish Purse Seine deal which the government is pursuing, to allow for Spanish purse seiners to fish in the largely untapped Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) of Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands Government and the European Union have already signed a draft agreement for the fishing deal.
Protesters of about 300 people rallied against the government’s plans, and called on their elected leaders to immediately stop all purse seine fishing activities in Cook Islands’ waters.
Led by a member of the Cook Islands parliament, Tupapa MP George Maggie, the protestors which included paramount chiefs, high chiefs, public servants, fishermen, youths and concerned tourists, braved the rain to voice their concerns over purse seine fishing.
Local MP, George Maggie, says that the people were never consulted over the planned deal and highlighted his concerns over the impact that Spanish purse seiners would have on fish populations and on the environment.
The Cook Islands government has said that the deal will earn the nation US$13 million ; however, locals say they are not concerned about the money, but are mindful of the long term impacts that such activities will have on their livelihoods.
Secretary of Marine Resources, Ben Ponia, has described the deal as the “best package so far for any fishing arrangement,” and said that a portion of the revenue to be made will be given to the local fishing industry with fuel subsidies to be introduced.
This announcement has, however, done very little to change the mind-set of the people.
The Cook Islands Fishing Association has also come out against the government’s proposed deal, stating that there has been a decline in fish population over the years noticeable to subsistence fishermen.
They say that they are aware that Spanish purse seiners will be targeting Skipjack Tuna; members of the fishing association are gravely concerned over the impact this will have on Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna which are a main source of income and food for the fishermen.
Earlier this year, a petition signed by over 4000 people was handed over to the government. The government continues to argue that the fishing deal will bring increased financial benefits for the nation.
In May, the government announced that fish exports had increased with the country’s overall revenue for the years 2014 and 2015 totalling up to US$9.5 Million; 97 per cent of the revenue was made from fresh fish exports through purse seine fishing.
This increase in export revenue has caused the government to venture into deals that will expand fishing activities.