Cook Islands Edit

The nation of the Cook Islands (Figure 1) is comprised of 14 islands and atolls that are divided into two distinct island groups, the northern and southern groups. The islands lie between 8º and 23º S latitude and 156º to 167º W longitude. The 2002 mid-year population estimate for the Cook Islands is 17,900 people (SPC 2003).


The Cook Islands has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.83 million km2, while only having a land area of 237 km2. The Cook Islands EEZ borders five other countries (French Polynesia, Kiribati, Tokelau, American Samoa and Niue), although final delimitation agreements have been reached only in respect of the boundaries with the USA (in regard to American Samoa) and France (in regard to French Polynesia).

(The original of this text was transferred, with the permission of SPC, from the original SPC technical report by Lindsay Chapman in 2004, and was compiled from interviews with island fishery managers and fishers. However, please feel free to make corrections to this Wikicity text if you have more accurate or more up-to-date information)

Management of Fisheries Edit

Cooks mmr

The development and management of the marine resources within the Cook Islands falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Marine Resources. The Ministry of Marine Resources was established by the Ministry of Marine Resources Act 1984. The Ministry of Marine Resources works under the Marine Resources Act 1989 (Anon 1989), which establishes a comprehensive framework for fisheries management. The Marine Resources Act 1989 is being reviewed and updated to include conservation and social issues as well as ensuring that the Cook Islands can meet international requirements as a result of future regional management of the tuna resource in the central and western Pacific.

Fisheries development and management is also covered under the Cook Islands National Development Strategy 2003. From this document the Ministry of Marine Resources has put together their budget estimates for 2003/2004 (Anon 2003a) against the policy objective and the planned outputs under the national outcome of economic sustainability. The policy objective and outputs for 2003/2004 are as follows (results also presented for relevant areas).

Policy objective: Recognising the potential growth of the longline commercial fishing and aquaculture industries including the pearl industry, continued support will be provided through an environment of fiscal incentives and user-friendly regulatory regime to promote local business participation.

Output 1, International/Legal: To enhance the policy and legal capacity of the Ministry and ensure proactive participation in local, regional and international fisheries initiatives.


  • A consolidated marine resources master plan completed;
  • Sound legal advice provided within agreed time frame;
  • New Marine Resources Act enforced;
  • Review of Marine Resources Regulations completed;
  • Provide assistance to develop Island/Vaka Councils Marine Management Plans;
  • MMR well informed of regional and international offshore fisheries initiatives; and
  • All fees received from multilateral treaties and bilateral agreements deposited into the public account within 24 hours of receipt.

Output 2, Inshore Fisheries: To facilitate the sustainable development of the pearl industry and the diversification, growth and sustainable management of the inshore fisheries resources.

Output 3, Offshore Fisheries: To promote a sustainable and regionally compatible fisheries management regime for the local offshore fisheries industry including monitoring, control and surveillance of the EEZ.


  • Annual report of offshore catch statistics completed;
  • Monthly reports of offshore catch statistics completed;
  • Technical support provided to the industry within three months of request;
  • Commercial fishing training courses conducted;
  • Tuna management/strategic plan completed;
  • Licensed vessel activities and movements in Cook Island EEZ known;
  • EEZ maritime and aerial patrol reports completed; and
  • Improved observer/compliance/port sampling coverage.

Output 4, Extension Services: To provide relevant fisheries related training to increase knowledge and skills of local fishermen and continue to maintain fish aggregating devices (FADs).


  • Fish aggregating devices (FADs) deployed and well maintained;
  • FADs deployed and well maintained at selected sister islands;
  • Equipment stored at MMR well maintained; and
  • International training received by private sector personnel.

Output 5, Corporate Services: To provide the Secretary with accurate financial information, efficient and effective managerial support.

Nearshore domestic fisheries development and/or management plans and strategies

The Ministry of Marine Resources is working towards the development and implementation of development and management plans for many of the domestic fisheries. When looking at the nearshore resources, the two main fisheries are the deep-water snapper fishery and the tuna fishery. At present there is no development and/or management plan in place for the deep-water snapper fishery, as there is little fishing of these stocks at present.

Most nearshore fishery development has occurred in the tuna fishery, and the Ministry of Marine Resources has developed a draft ‘Cook Islands Tuna and Large Pelagic Fishery Plan: 2003’ (Anon 2003). The general objectives of this Fishery Plan are:

  • to provide for the utilisation (including optimum economic returns) of the tuna and large pelagic fishery, for the benefit of the people of the Cook Islands;
  • to ensure the long-term sustainability of the tuna and large pelagic fishery, and to assess the impact of fishing on target and bycatch species;
  • to develop and maintain the economic viability of the tuna and large pelagic fishery and associated fishing industry, while ensuring the Cook Islands meets its international environmental, health and fisheries obligations;
  • to protect traditional inshore fishers;
  • to implement a comprehensive fisheries management regime incorporating SFRs as the principal management measure and transition the existing participants to the new management regime;
  • to achieve effective cost recovery;
  • to collect the best available scientific and other information on the tuna and large pelagic fishery;
  • to fulfil the purposes and principles in the Act.

The Fishery Plan also allows for the formation and operation of a Consultative Advisory Forum with 6 members appointed by the Secretary of Marine Resources. The Consultative Advisory Forum shall advise the Secretary on any matter referred to it by the Secretary and, in particular: the management and development of the designated fishery; the establishment and amendment of operational management procedures; recommendations on areas of research; the level of cost recovery; and any incidental matters. The Secretary shall consider any advice proffered by the Consultative Advisory Forum, but is not bound to act in accordance therewith.

Development Status of Fisheries (2004) Edit

Tables one to four summarise the current status with background information on domestic development in the nearshore fisheries, in a range of areas. The main focus is on developments in the tuna fishery, both public and private sector, as this is where most effort has and is being directed. The tables provide a snapshot based on the information available at the time.

Deepwater snapper fishing Edit

Current Status

Deep-water snapper fishing is conducted on an ad hoc basis by small-scale private sector fishermen. Two fishermen target deep-water snapper when there are no tuna around.

Some deep-water snapper fishing in Penrhyn and Aitutaki, with fish sold locally.

Ad hoc subsistence fishing for these species in the outer islands.


In 1975/76 and 1981/82, SPC introduced deep-water snapper fishing techniques and provided training to fishermen on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Penrhyn.

In 1983, SPC undertook additional survey work for deep-water snappers, and trained local fishermen on Rarotonga. Catches were small and confirmed previous results that there was only a small deep-water snapper resource around Rarotonga.

No further promotion of deep-water snapper fishing has occurred due to the limited stocks in many locations.

In the early 2000s one operator conducted fishing trials for deep-water snappers on the seamounts and offshore areas from Aitutaki with limited success, and stopped the trials after one year.

Rural and urban fishing centres Edit

Current Status

Government owned ice plant turned over to the Island Council on Aitutaki to operate.

Government assisted Island Council on Mangaia to locate funding, purchase and install ice plant.

Palmerston Island group occasionally export shipments of parrotfish and other species to Rarotonga for marketing.

3 main tuna processing and packing facilities on Rarotonga, 2 to HACCP standards.

3 small processing facilities on Rarotonga as well.


Small fisheries centre established on Palmerston Island in early 1970s with fisheries providing a 2.5 t freezer. A collection system using the Government Fisheries Vessel, F/V Ravakai, was used to transport the catch to Rarotonga for sale.

In Rarotonga, the Fisheries Department had a blast freezer and holding freezer, 2 cold stores and an ice plant for freezing and selling local fish products.

In 1982, UNDP established a freezer facility on Penrhyn Island with collection system. Centres were established with ice machines and freezers on Rakahanga and

Manihiki in the early to mid 1980s, under the government department of Outer Islands Affairs.

Most centres were closed within a couple of years or by the end of the 1980s due to poor maintenance of machinery, low catches and transport problems to get the catch to market. The exception was the project on Palmerston, where most fishing occurred when the collection vessel arrived.

Boatbuilding (public and private sector) Edit

Current Status

There are two boat building facilities, one on Rarotonga and the other on Aitutaki. Boats built in aluminium, plus repair work undertaken in steel and aluminium.

Around 5 welding facilities on Rarotonga and 2 on Aitutaki. These places do repairs to boats.

Several people build small-scale vessels in plywood and fibreglass in their backyard to orders.

One small company making fibreglass outrigger paddling canoes for recreational purposes.


Outrigger canoes have been used traditionally in the Cook Islands, although these have been decreasing since the late 1970s in favour of outboard-powered craft.

Plywood skiffs with outboard and forward steering (similar to the French Polynesian style ‘poti marara’) were built locally for both trolling and scoop netting flyingfish.

Carpenters still build plywood vessels although larger outboard engines are being used, including 4-stroke engines.

Engineering shops can do repairs on steel and aluminium vessels. Two companies have been build aluminium vessels for several years.

FAD programmes and or deployments Edit

Current Status

FAD research project has 5 FADs on station, 3 off Rarotonga and 2 off Aitutaki.

Active FAD programme around Rarotonga (7 FADs in total) and Aitutaki (3 FADs in total), including maintenance, implemented by the Fisheries Department.

Fisheries Department also has FADs at some outer islands (2 at Atiu, and 1 each at Mauke, Mitiaro and Mangaia) although the maintenance is not regular.

Manihiki fishermen and pearl farmers have paid for their own FAD materials (2 in the water), with the Fisheries Department assisting with material orders and the deployment of the FADs.

Deployment of 1 FAD off Pukapuka and 1 off Penrhyn planned for late 2003.


First FADs deployed of Rarotonga in 1981 by the Fisheries Department to assist small-scale tuna fishery development.

During the 1980s, over 30 FADs were deployed in the Cook Islands. In 1991, 8 FADs were on station, 3 off Rarotonga and 5 in the outer islands, with an additional 5 FADs to be deployed that year.

FADs continued to be deployed with around 30 units deployed during the 1990s, with most deployments around Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

In 2001 a New Zealand funded FAD research project was jointly implemented by SPC and the governments of Niue and the Cook Islands. In 2002, 7 project FADs were deployed (4 off Rarotonga and 3 off Aitutaki), with 2 more deployed in 2003 after several of the initial FADs were lost

Public sector development (small-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

There is currently no public sector development in tuna fishing in the Cook Islands apart from the maintaining of the FAD programme and the maintenance of the FADs in the water.

The Fisheries Department has conduct training sessions with small-scale tuna fishing operators in the past.


In November 1985, SPC introduced new mid-water fishing techniques to fisheries staff and local fishermen. These methods were the vertical longline and palu-ahi method.

Fisheries Department staff continued with mid-water fishing techniques and demonstrated these to local fishermen, although interest dropped of in the late 1980s.

In 1997, SPC worked with the Fisheries Department’s Fisheries Development Unit (FDU) to re-introduce FAD-associated mid-water fishing skills through workshops on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the FDU held workshops on other outer islands to introduce mid-water fishing techniques, outboard motor repairs, boat repairs and maintenance, and sea safety.

Private sector development (small-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

Around 20 full-time and 20 to 25 part-time small-scale commercial operators fishing around Rarotonga mainly trolling and mid-water fishing around the FADs for tunas and other pelagics.

Around 5 full-time and 10 to 15 part-time small-scale commercial operators fishing around Aitutaki, mainly trolling and mid-water fishing around the coast and FADs for tunas and other pelagics.

Several hundred small-scale operators in the outer islands mainly trolling and mid-water fishing for tunas and other pelagics for subsistence purposes.


Canoe fishermen mid-water handlined in traditional tuna holes, although this dropped off as fishermen changed from canoes to outboard-powered craft.

Before FADs were introduced, local fishermen trolled around the reef edge, or moved further offshore if tuna schools were observed.

With the deployment of FADs in 1980 and the introduction of mid-water fishing methods such as vertical longlines, fishermen started to use and rely on the FADs for better catches.

Public sector tuna fishing companies Edit

Current Status

There are no public sector tuna fishing companies in the Cook Islands, as the government policy is to promote private sector development.


In the late 1980s, the Cook Island Fisheries Department purchased 8.8 m vessel from Tonga to do some tuna longline trials. The boat was used for a short time, pulled out of the water for many years, and eventually sold to the private sector in 1996.

The Cook Island’s Government has not been directly involved in any other tuna fishing operations, but has promoted the policy of private sector development of the tuna fishery.

Private sector development (medium-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

There are currently 37 active private sector vessels tuna longlining in Cook Island waters.

13 of the vessels work in the northern Cook Islands, with 10 working from Samoa or American Samoa and 3 bringing their catch back to Rarotonga for marketing.

Of the other 24 vessels working from Rarotonga, 2 do day trips, 2 do 3 to 4 day trips and the rest do 5 to 9 day trips. Fishing activities and unloading are dictated by flight schedules for export.


In 1986, the first attempt at exporting sashimi grade tuna by air was undertaken by a locally-based vessel operating out of Penrhyn in the Northern Cooks. This venture was unsuccessful.

In 1996, there were two small tuna longliners based in Rarotonga. Each was owned by a local business. In 1997, SPC provided assistance to the operators of these two vessels to try to improve the catch rates while training the crew. Unfortunately, one vessel went on the reef in 1998.

The vessel on the reef was pulled off and sold to another local company, who refitted the vessel and started fishing in 1999/2000, selling the catch on the local market. In 2001 the company bought in a second vessel. 2001/2002 saw a large investment in tuna longlining in the country, not only with boats, but also the construction of processing and packhouse facilities in Rarotonga. The focus of these operations was fresh export.

In 2002, SPC provided training to crew of new vessels and other people interested in tuna longlining.

Joint ventures tuna fishing operations Edit

Current Status

Each local company is allowed to bring in 3 vessels under demise charter arrangements. There are 12 local companies with 6 of these bringing in charter vessels (15 vessels in total).

There is one locally-based foreign vessel fishing under a joint venture arrangement.

Several of the vessels working in the northern Cooks are also fishing under joint venture or demise charter arrangements.


In 1994, the joint venture company, Cook Islands Sealords Ltd, was established and 2 tuna longliners fished in the Southern Cooks for almost a year, landing their catch in Rarotonga. Two other vessel arrived in 1996, but all departed by the end of 1996.

Other joint venture operations were established in 2001 and 2002 as companies focused on the potential for developing the tuna longline fishery. Some of the joint ventures were associated with developing the domestic longline fishery out of Rarotonga, while others were to allow vessels to fish in the Northern Cooks, with the vessels operating out of, and landing there catch into, Samoa and American Samoa.

Local companies were allowed to bring in up to 3 vessels under a demise charter arrangement.

Sportsfishing and gamefishing Edit

Current Status

Around 9 charter vessel fish from Rarotonga and another 5 fish around Aitutaki, with most charters coming from tourists.

One fishing tournament is held per month in Rarotonga with 15 to 32 boats participating.

Aitutaki has 4 fishing tournaments per year with around 20 boats fishing per tournament.


Charter and sportfishing commenced in Rarotonga in the early 1980s with one operator, which expanded to 3 by the mid 1980s.

The number of charter operators remained constant at 3 on Rarotonga until 1998/99, when another 6 operators entered the charter fishing sector.

On Aitutaki, these has been a constant number of charter operators from the early 1980s to the present, with these operators upgrading their boats from time to time.

Bait fishing trials or activities Edit

Current Status

There is currently no bait fishery in the Cook Islands.

Several private sector proposals have been put to the Fisheries Department for the farming of milkfish in Aitutaki, Rakahanga and Mitiaro.


Local fishermen have traditionally jigged for bigeye scad and blue mackerel from canoes, with these fish both used for bait or eaten.

SPC’s Skipjack Survey and Assessment Programme conducted baitfish surveys (for live bait for use in pole-and-line operations) from 1978 to 1980, with poor results.

Baitfishing trials were conducted by SPC in 1985/86 using small-mesh gillnets in the harbour, passages and waters just outside the reef. The target species were bigeye scad and blue mackerel for use as bait on vertical longlines.

Other fishing methods trialled Edit

Current Status

The catching of flyingfish using outboard-powered boats and high powered lights and a scoop net is a major fishery in the Cook Islands.

There are currently no other domestic nearshore or offshore fisheries in the Cook Islands, although one company will conduct fishing trials for various deep-water species (crabs, shrimp) using traps and possibly bottom longlines in late 2003.


Traditionally, Cook Islanders have used coconut frond torches and scoop nets to catch flyingfish outside the reef from canoes.

In the 1980s and 90s, lights, run off batteries, were mounted on helmets to replace the coconut frond torches. Outboard-powered boats have also replaced the canoes.

References Edit

  • Anon. 2003a. Cook Islands Government Budget Estimates 2003/2004 – Part I, Appropriation Bill – Appropriations and Commentary (Ministry of Marine Resources). Government of the Cook Islands. Pages 81 to 90.
  • Anon. 2003b. Draft Cook Islands Tuna and Large Pelagic Fishery Plan: 2003. Ministry of Marine Resources, Government of the Cook Islands. 13 p.
  • Anon. 1989. Marine Resources Act 1989. Government of the Cook Islands.
  • Beverly, S. 1997. Capture Section report of technical assistance to the Rarotongan-based tuna longline fleet, and demonstration of mid-water fishing techniques to artisanal fishermen in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, Cook Islands (26 January to 3 May 1997). Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia. 63 p.
  • Chapman, L. and P. Cusack. 1997. Report on fourth visit to the Cook Islands (Part I — 17 November 1985 to 29 July 1986; and Part II — 14 November to 23 December 1986). Unpublished report No. 6, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 51 p.
  • Dalzell, P. and G. Preston. 1992. Deep reef slope fishery resources of the South Pacific — a summary and analysis of the dropline fishing survey data generated by the activities of the SPC Fisheries Programme between 1974 and 1988. Inshore Fisheries Research Project, Technical Document No. 2, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 299 p.
  • Desurmont, A. 1992. Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) Assistance Programme report of visit to the Cook Islands (23 November to 21 December 1990). South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 27 p.
  • Hume, H. 1976. Report on the South Pacific Commission Outer Reef Fisheries Project in the Cook Islands (1 December 1975 to 31 May 1976). South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 21 p.
  • Gillett, R. In press. Domestic tuna industry development in the Pacific Islands — the current situation and considerations for future development assistance. FFA Report 03/01, Gillett, Preston and Associates Inc. 196 p.
  • Gillett, R. 2002. Pacific Island fisheries: regional and country information. RAP Publication 2002/13, Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. 168 p.
  • Mead, P. 1997. Report on third visit to the Cook Islands (16 February to 20 July 1983). Unpublished report No. 5. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 33 p.
  • Mitchell, J. 1996. Country Report: Cook Islands. Ninth meeting of the Standing Committee on Tuna and Billfish (SCTB9), 22 to 23 July 1996. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 2 p.
  • OFP. 1997. Cook Islands 1997 National Fisheries Assessment. Oceanic Fisheries Programme, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 84 p.
  • SPC. 2003. Population statistics provided by the Demography Section of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia.
  • Taumaia, P. and G. Preston. 1985. Deep Sea Fisheries Development Project Report of second visit to the Cook Islands (10 September 1981 to 29 March 1082). South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 31 p.
  • Whitelaw, W. 2001. Country guide to gamefishing in the western and central Pacific. Oceanic Fisheries Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia. 112 p.