Late last month, a Chinese fishing vessel was apprehended in the Cook Islands carrying shark fins:
Shark fins were recently discovered by Cook Islands maritime police during the inspection of a Chinese-flagged longline fishing vessel.The vessel was carrying an estimated eight kilograms of wet sharks fin and no shark carcasses, but was released without facing charges. This has created a controversy in the islands:
The find occurred during a maritime surveillance operation by Cook Islands Police patrol boat Te Kukupa, which was dispatched from Rarotonga on February 13 to patrol the northern section of the nation’s exclusive economic zone – which is comprised of over two million square kilometres of ocean.
A boarding party dispatched to conduct an inspection found “an estimated eight kilograms of wet shark fin separated from its carcass” aboard one of the vessels, according to the report.
The chain of command remains unclear, however, after receiving instructions from officials in Rarotonga, maritime police were advised to allow the vessel to continue its voyage.
MMR secretary Ben Ponia said the two vessels were not licensed to fish in Cook Islands waters and did not fish in the nation’s EEZ.
Under Cook Islands law – as outlined in Section 5 of shark conservation regulations - no person may “catch, capture, target, or otherwise engage in fishing for any shark”, and “no person may possess, receive, transfer, store, have on board, or trans ship any shark, or any part of a shark”.
Under the regulations, fines can range from $100,000 to $250,000, with each shark constituting a separate offense.
No charges were laid on the vessel or its captain by local law enforcement authorities.
Democratic Party leader Wilkie Rasmussen has blasted the response of officials after shark fins were recently discovered by police during the inspection of a foreign fishing vessel.The conservation community is also up in arms:
Despite strict shark conservation regulations under Cook Islands law – which prohibits the possession, transfer, or storing of any shark or shark part – no charges were laid by maritime police, who were instructed by officials in Rarotonga to allow the boat to proceed to its destination.
The chain of command that led to that decision has not been officially disclosed by MMR.
“I can see no reason why no action was taken,” said Rasmussen. “Those who were involved in not laying charges are complicit in the betrayal of the country.”
A key individual behind the creation of the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary says regulations meant to protect sharks should be enforced, not applied arbitrarily by government officials at their own discretion.Shark Defenders will continue to monitor the issue and will post updates as they occur.
Director Stephen Lyon of the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI) – who led efforts to establish the 1.9 million square kilometre shark sanctuary along with fellow conservationists – was reacting to a recent incident where shark fins were discovered by maritime police during the inspection of a Chinese-flagged longlining fishing vessel.
Several other undisclosed violations were reported by police, who didn’t lay any charges after receiving instructions from officials in Rarotonga to allow the boat to proceed to its destination.
Under Cook Islands regulations, violations can face fines ranging from $100,000 to $250,000, with each shark constituting a separate offense.