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StarKist To Can Cook Islands Branded Tuna Cook Islands, September 5, 12

The first ever 100-ton shipment of tuna to be offloaded in Rarotonga Friday marked the launch of the island’s ‘Golden Tuna’ brand.
Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop said, “We have been working hard to convert the wealth of our waters into tangible economic benefits.”
“It is all about making sure that we are “clipping the ticket” from the moment it is caught in the ocean until it reaches the mouth of consumers”.
“The days of government simply licensing vessels to fish in our waters and then allowing them to trans-ship the raw product and depriving us of the opportunities for processing and marketing are falling behind us”.
Present to witness the occasion was a host of representatives from regional organizations including Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Prof. Glen Hurry, the Executive Director of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and Dan Sua representing the Forum Fisheries Agency.
The fishing vessel responsible for delivering the catch is the Chinese flagged Hua Nan Yu 22 which was specially designed for fishing in the Cook Islands waters by her operators China Southern Fishery (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd on behalf of her owners Luen Thai Fishing Ventures Ltd (LTFV) in 2011.
The Hua Nan Yu 22 represents some of the most advanced features of the fishing industry today. Made of Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRB) and at 36 meters length and weighing 200 tons it is a lightweight and fuel efficient vessel. With Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) storage capacity it is capable of blast freezing the fish to minus 35 degrees Celsius to meet the high quality demand for EU fish market or Japanese sashimi grade standards.
On board the vessel are advanced information systems that can barcode individual fish with details about weight and location of depth which it was caught, this information can be relayed in real time electronically via the company’s proprietary satellite vessel monitoring system to the central headquarters which is able to line up the product with contract orders.
Hua Nan Yu 22 is part of a fleet of 13 similar class vessels fishing for LTFV and which are licensed by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) to fish in the Cook Islands waters.
With its combined fishing power the fleet are expected to make regular 100-ton shipments through Rarotonga and landing 500 tons a month. This could possibly double to 1,000 tons a month.
One of the immediate beneficiaries will be the Avatiu harbor and thousands of dollars spent in port charges will help repay the government loan for the NZD$27 million harbor expansion project.
For the immediate term the super frozen product will be shipped out by container ships in specially designed reefer containers. Managing the volume of 500-ton a month deliveries will be a challenge to Rarotonga port as it represent shipments of 38 containers a month, compared to current storage capacity of 20 containers onshore, and Rarotonga’s shipping cycle of just 80 containers every 21 days.
For her inaugural visit the Hua Nan Yu 22 will take on provisions and bait supply. In the future the vessels will also be refueling up to 200 tons of diesel fuel.
On land the transactions will be handled through the Chinese owned locally registered company Huanan Fishery, Cook Islands, Co. Ltd and using local shipping agents. Additional Cook Islanders are being temporarily hired to assist with the offloading.
The Golden Tuna Brand represents efforts by the Minster Bishop to get a greater share in the participation of the processing and marketing from the StarKist cannery in American Samoa which receives a large portion of the Cook Islands tuna.
StarKist cannery is one of the largest operations of its kind, employing 2000 workers and processing 650 round tons a day.
The Cook Islands does not have the capacity to maintain a cannery but its commitment to supply StarKist with sustainably caught and high quality product provides the Cook Islands with equity stake in the processed product.
This is the leverage used to have some of the unlabelled processed product to be returned to the Cook Islands for local consumption and marketed through Cook Islands export chains and into markets where it has a comparative advantage.
The household census conducted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC, 2006) reported that eighty tons of canned fish worth NZ$720,000 is exported into the Cook Islands every year.
Per capita consumption of fish also indicates alarming low levels of fish consumption in urban Cook Islands of just 25 kilograms per year per person compared with the recommended levels of 35 kilograms by the World Health Organization to meet basic nutritional health requirements and address non communicable diseases (NCDs).
According to the SPC an epidemic of chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart failure and cancer is undermining economic development and has placed the region in ‘an NCD crisis’. The Cook Islands’ Ministry of Health estimates half of annual deaths in the country are due to NCDs. Diabetes and hypertension are increasing and there are high levels of obesity.
Secretary for Mineral Resources, Ben Ponia said offshore fishery in the Cook Islands is in a dynamic stage of growth, as is the case for many other Pacific Island nations.
“Three years ago the fishery was stagnant, catches were 2,000 tons a year, and just 10 tons of fish was being exported. The most tangible return to government was from licensing fees of six hundred or eight hundred thousand dollars a year.
“Today we are witnessing a transition to a 10,000-ton plus long-line fishery utilizing Rarotonga as a base for operations where we hope to airfreight 1,000 tons of fresh fish and 6,000 tons of super frozen product, creating opportunities for revenue generation. We want this to succeed so that parts of this model can be replicated in Aitutaki and the northern Cook Islands, particularly on Penrhyn, Pukapuka and Manihiki where most of the fishing is actually taking place”
The Cook Islands must assert its rights as a fishing nation to utilize this shared resource. Our efforts to sustainably manage this fishery and stop illegal fishing practices will provide eco-labeling opportunities, he says.
According to Ponia, the combined fisheries of the Cook Islands could potentially deliver NZ$18 million a year in licensing revenue or around 10 per cent of the government budget, and provide 25 per cent of our countries economic GDP. This would significantly diversify the Cook Islands highly vulnerable tourism dependent economy and stimulate new areas of trade and infrastructure.
“But it won’t happen overnight and it does require a long term commitment to seeing our policies through,” he added.
This could represent a significant injection of new wealth to the country to spend on the welfare, health and education of Cook Islanders. It would also relieve the country from overreliance on donor aid and allow it to assert its own future path and policies to the benefit of Cook Islanders.
“Tuna is a valuable commodity and as the resource owner we have some exciting options to explore. But we have to begin to engage with fishing companies, processors and markets at some point and this is really what today is about. Step one is to get our products landed onshore”, said Minister Bishop.