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Smarter management and new technology crucial for the future of tuna fisheries says Cook Islands
8:26 pm GMT+12, 06/12/2017, Philippines

By Pita Ligaiula in Manila, Philippines
Cook Islands is calling for a smarter management and rapid adoption of new technology to ensure sustainability Pacific tuna fisheries, including the albacore fishery.
Ben Ponia, Cook Islands Secretary of Marine Resources and head of delegation at the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Commission (WCPFC) taking place in Manila says Pacific nations and the WCPFC can achieve a better outcome for tuna. 
“I’m ..calling for smarter management of this fishery, what we tend to do is rely a lot on the science to guide our final outcomes to ensure sustainability and I think we can, by having more electronic reporting, electronic observing, electronic catch documentation, we can manage this fishery in a lot more dynamic manner.
“I’m pointing to our (Cook Islands) experience on the albacore quota system,” he said.
“We’re coming out of this era, where the big eye tuna was being over fished, it’s now in healthy status so we are not entirely focused on the rebuilding of the big eye stock.
“We are focused more on the harvest strategy that applies for all the key species and it’s time to lock into more smart management approach and I think you may see some of that coming out of this tropical tuna measure,” said Ponia. 
He said there’s another reason for backing the smarter management is because of development of the seafloor fibre optic communications cable and technology is really taking off in the region.
“Yes we (are) small administrations now, (but we) have a lot more capacity, technology is taking us to a new level in terms of management and compliance and that comes together, that’s what the consumer wants out of this fishery, they want to know that we’ve set sustainable targets and we’re actually adhering to that.
“Ultimately a catch documentation scheme where full traceability, electronic traceability can be adhered to, is what this region needs to head towards,” Ponia told the media in Manila.
Many of these initiatives are already being implemented in the purse seine fishery Parties to Nauru Agreement in conjunction with its Vessel Day Scheme (VDS).
But Ponia says that does not mean a Vessel Day Scheme is the best option for the albacore fishery which is smaller fishery and based on longline fishing.  
“Not without knowing why the VDS maybe a better way to manage the albacore,’ he said.
“We’ve looked at the Vessel Day Scheme as a way to manage albacore and I think it is probably easier to manage using a VDS but ultimately what we are trying to do is control catches not effort. 
“We’ve decided to go straight for controlling catch and in order to do that we need to improve our system in terms of reporting so that smarter management that I just spoke about E-reporting, E-observing E-catch documentation schemes will be critical if you want to do what we’re doing and these kind of systems that we have in place,” said Ponia.
Ponia also took the opportunity to clarify Cook Islands position on the Tokelau Arrangement after Solomon Islands pulled of the agreement.
“Just to be clear we haven’t pulled out of the Tokelau Agreement. We’re still signatories to the Tokelau Agreement,” Ponia said.
The Tokelau Arrangement is a non-binding agreement between eleven Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) nations to take more control over the fishery.
The next step towards creating sustainability in the fishery is a binding catch management arrangement.
“Because we have a quota system already in place we’ve signalled (to the) FFA when they have their catch management arrangement in place we can have a look at harmonising our quota system,” Ponia said.
“You have to bear in mind that you have French Polynesia, you have American Samoa, you have New Caledonia which also have relatively large albacore fisheries that are not parties to the FFA.
“I think the Tokelau Arrangement when we adopted it was a pathway to a WCPFC measure on albacore and my sense is we are somewhat ahead of the Tokelau Arrangement, he said. 
“We’re trying to signal to the region, think about the overall management of this fishery. I expected the Tokelauan arrangement will go broader that FFA, to be more inclusive of the EEZs that are not part of FFA. And we will have to find some compatibility between systems that we have adopted which manage catch tonnage and systems that are evolving within PNA which are based on effort. So you know there are a lot of factors at play at the moment, head of the WCPFC’s focus is really on the regional approach including the High Seas and EEZs,” said Ponia.
Ponia denied that Cook Islands decision to opt for catch management is derailing Pacific solidarity in WCPFC discussions.
He said the Tokelau Arrangement is not a legally binding agreement.
“I would think that what we’ve done is, we’ve signed into a non-binding agreement and under that Tokelauan agreement we have a harvest quote if you will that’s assigned to the Cook Islands and we’ve made that non-binding agreement actually binding ourselves.
“So in fact we’re demonstrating how the Tokelau Arrangement, the harvest strategy could actually apply in to countries, when it became a binding arrangement amongst all the other parties that it simply became more difficult, we can become around to some sort of region agreement, but that’s not clear on how it’s going to operate at the moment,” said Ponia. 
Tokelau Arrangement nations are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.


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