Spanish Vessels not welcome in Cook Island waters

By Peata Melbourne

A controversial agreement has been signed between the European Union and the Cook Islands that will allow Purse Seine fishing vessels 7,000 tonnes of skipjack tuna per annum to be taken from Cook Islands' waters.

Around 15 protesters from the Cook Island community arrived at a meeting held on the island of Rarotonga last night. several of whom were Aronga Mana (traditional leaders) wearing ceremonial dress, to have their voice heard in front of the Cook Island officials and Council of the European Union.

As they entered the room, one leader expressed his anger in native tongue, followed by two more. Sentiments were shared conveying that the waters are theirs, as are the goods it comes with, and it is only money the Government seeks.

"We're opposing that particular agreement and secondly, the European Union are not welcome in Cook Islands' waters" says William Framhein of Aronga Mana.

They then filed out of the room when the convener of the meeting invited them to stay, but he was given a short prompt reply by a member of Aronga Mana, "We won't stay because you won't listen to us."

Prime Minister and Minister for Marine Resources Henry Puna signed the agreement that will see nearly $US 7 million over a 4-year period in return for allowing four European flagged purse seine fishing vessels to fish for migratory tuna.

The agreement provides for the ministry to partner with the Spanish purse seine industry and World Wide Fund for Nature on a fisheries improvement plan that aims to have tuna catches sustainably certified under the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation processes.

However Mr Framhein said the locals are concerned about the decline of tuna in the Cook Islands. Large protests were staged last year leading up to the proposed deal. Many locals are infuriated by their Governments. 

Fishing representatives from the EU and Spain also attended the meeting which was organised by the Ministry of Marine Resources.