Behind the drive is June and Andrew Hosking, who came up with the idea to draft the petition after discussing the issue of fisheries management with Maukean civic leaders.
Addressing the PM, the petition says, “We, the people of Mauke ask that you stop negotiations with the European Union purse seiners and phase out all purse seine fishing within the Cook Islands EEZ”.
In addition, the petition asks for fishing aggregating devices (FADs) to be allowed for use strictly by local small scale fishers, and to review fish prices charged to foreign fishing vessels.
Prices must “reflect the true value of this natural resource which we believe to be as valuable, if not more so than oil because when oil runs out we have alternative energy sources, but when the fish run out we cannot make more.”
A review of total allowable catch (TAC) is also called for to ensure fishing “is kept to a sustainable level that will ensure food security for future generations of Cook Islanders.”
As of yesterday afternoon the petition had gathered 60 signatures, roughly 20 per cent of the island’s population.
Currently, the Cook Islands and the European Union are in negotiations for a fisheries partnership agreement (FPA), which EU officials say includes provisions for four purse seiners with a combined gross tonnage of 6,500 tonnes to fish in the country’s EEZ.
Negotiations were conducted between MMR and European officials last month, and a draft agreement is currently in the hands of cabinet.
Yesterday, June Hosking stressed the petition is not aimed directly at the government or PM Puna, who is currently the acting minister for marine resources.
“This is not against the government, it’s for sustainability,” said Hosking, who is hoping to gain the support of 80 per cent of the voting population of the island before taking the petition to other islands in the pa enua.
PM Puna has said recently he intends to consult heavily with the public on the proposed fishing deal, and has also expressed concern that a finalised agreement could have a destabilising effect in the Pacific region.
“This access agreement is not going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.
In order to muster initial local support for the petition, Hosking said she went on television along with Mauke mayor George Samuelaa long time fisherman and president of Mauke’s Fishing Club.
“He has witnessed first hand the stock’s decline and reduced sizes of fish caught,” she said.
The petition says many Maukeans, in addition to mayor Samuela, are catching smaller fish, and are harder to find.
“We are also seeing commercial fishing boats not far from our island which concerns us. Fish are a critical part of our local economy and health as it provides a cheap source of healthy food for us,” reads the petition.
“We don’t need them, they need us,” said Hosking. “Let’s demand a fair payment for our resources and tell them what they can have and how they take it, keeping our Cook Island’s future as the priority.”
The Maukean resident also said economic development should not come at the expense of the environment.
“Many are aware our oceans are in crisis, the smart ones are taking action to reduce their negative impact. We have the opportunity to lead by example, let’s do it.”