“FADs are used in the region’s purse seine fishery and FAD debris as reported in this article continues to be a marine pollution issue,” an MMR spokesperson said.
The TIS article raised the issue of FADs on Suwarrow in particular, with a team finding more than 50 FADs washed up on the shore during an excursion to the island last month.
“At least two of them were responsible for the death of turtles, as turtle remains were found associated with these FADs,” the article read.
It went on to say that FADs left to drift unretrieved by fishing boat operators “should be viewed as illegal marine pollution and should be covered under some law or international convention”.
“As a small, local non-government organisation, TIS can really only raise awareness about the scale of the issue, and encourage the Cook Islands government through the Ministry of Marine Resources to also raise the issue at international meetings on fisheries, as well as at international Marine Protected Area meetings.”
An MMR spokesperson said the ministry “works closely in international forums with the major fishing nations to improve the management of FADs, especially their ability to be retrieved using electronic tracking, and restrictions on the number deployed”.
“We have supported closures of FADs at the regional level for various times of the year and recently this was expanded at the West and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to place more restrictions on the use of FADs on the high seas.
“We actively monitor the FADs of the major fishing nations who fish into our waters under international treaties and agreements, in conjunction with regional and multilateral access.”
The spokesperson said there was only so much MMR could do however.
“Unfortunately FADs can travel thousands of kilometres, so any FADs laid on the high seas to the north of our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), in the EEZs of other countries, and in the Eastern Pacific Ocean outside the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, are deployed beyond our jurisdiction and difficult for us to manage or monitor.
“We continue to work on this issue at a regional and international level, including with assistance from the active engagement of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund in managing effective responses to this issue.”
The ministry spokesperson said the issue could be at least partially managed on a local level, and individual Cook Islanders should be encouraged to play their part in dealing with FAD pollution as well.
“MMR encourages members of the public to report sightings of FADs and other fishing debris to the ministry,” the spokesperson said. “Sonar buoys (beacons) can have identifying names and numbers on them, and these can be traced back to vessels.
“MMR has also had discussions with island councils in the Pa Enua about marine waste from commercial fishing, and it has encouraged communities to conduct regular clean-ups of the shoreline for the protection of marine life and seabirds.”