A call for help: Cook Islands and the EU double standards

Last year, a fellow from the Cook Islands contacted Daniel and I at the Sea Around Us to tell us about the story of a purse-seiner who wanted access to the Cook Island’s yellowfin tuna fishery. He merely asked questions about the impact of the EU fleet. I must say, I did not grasp the problem then and I thought he was yet another journalist who wanted to write about how Chinese fishing vessels were bad. I under-estimated the problem, and I was probably very busy to even do a proper research into it.

Then again, the fellow contacts us earlier this year, asking us about the precautionary approach to fisheries, and that the Cook Islands were about to sign a fishing agreement with the EU for purse-seining and that would be disastrous for the small scale and indigenous communities there. It rang a bell, a very strong one in my head. Obviously I took the lead in looking at the case. I do not believe that this wills ecure a “paper” or that I will write a book about it, I simply believe that the EU has a tendency to forcing its fleets on small scale communities who have merely the means to fighting it. I believe that we talk a little bit too much about corruption, and the lack of transparency from the ivory tower of the EU, and forget that the corrupted has to be corrupted and the lack of transparency goes both ways. The case went to court, and hence our friend from the Cook Islands wanted to gather all possible information about the fisheries. From our high scientific tower here, a colleague said that he didn’t think that the tuna fisheries were that important for small-scale fishermen, they caught mainly reef fishes. I bet they do not! Why would they fight it then.

I was glad to produce a piece, very quickly and send it to the people in the Cook Islands, actually two pieces. I can’t share them now, just in case they want to use it in court.

I told them they needed to have a scientist talk about surplus, precautionary approach and the fact that small-scale fisheries, which are mostly under-reported are in fact documented toc atch tunas, however their catches were declining increasingly, which is an alarming sign for food security. Ironic isn’t it?

I was alarmed when the fellow told me in a Skype conversation that people are now forced to eat imported chicken legs to compensate for the declining fish.

I was alarmed to know that the EU went ahead in signing the fishing deal despite it being under court?

Yes, yes, the EU signs fishing deals despite active court cases against them!

This is very painful for me, and even more painful for the people who are fighting this. I am not saying that no fishing deals should be signed. However, whenever they are being considered they should undergo scrutiny and the public must know about negotiations, science, and international regulatory considerations that preceeded the deal. This said, here is how I think the EU must give itself either a slap in the face, or a yellow card:

  • The case is in court. The EU should ask itself: what if this was in a EU court?
  • Tuna catches are declining and a direct relationship could be established that shows that industrial fisheries do have a negative impact on small-scale sectors, undermining food security and local economy, two components that countries shall respect under UNCLOS
    Figure 2. Industrial versus small-scale catches of tunas in the Cook Islands, 1990-2010. R=-0.84 (p<0.05).
    Data extracted from the Sea Around Us (www.seaaroundus.org)

    • There is no surplus. It is documented that stock are doing fine, however, catch levels are beyond Maximum sustainable yields, which indicate a lack of surplus. This is a necessary condition for any fishing agreement under UNCLOS
    • The main purse-seining company that is to fish in the Cook Islands holds a vessel that is a perpetuator of illegal fishing.

    I think there can be many other reasons for the EU to reconsider, at least for equity, but also for its role in promoting sustainable fisheries worldwide. This does not look good and I look forward for the hearing to start in March.

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