20 January 2016,
CHINESE NATIONALS FOUND HARVESTING SEA CUCUMBER
The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) is investigating a case involving two Chinese nationals who were found illegally harvesting sea cucumber (rori) in Rarotonga.
A total of 2352 pieces of dried and partially dry sea cucumber with a dry weight of 6kg was seized by MMR during the search of the couple’s accommodation on January 13. Officers estimated the total wet weight of the live sea cucumber would be 200kg.
Secretary of Marine Resources Ben Ponia says the ongoing investigation has raised concerns about preventing the illegal harvesting and export of inshore marine resources.
“Although we believe there was intent to export the sea cucumbers there is a lack of regulations to control the harvesting of local seafood by visitors for personal consumption. We are continuing our investigation of this incident and enquiries in regards to this couple and their past activities. Immigration was notified to put the couple on an alert list,” he says. The alert will prevent the pair from entering the Cook Islands again.
The Ministry has since been notified that the Chinese nationals had departed Rarotonga on January 17.
An investigation was launched when the owner of the visitor’s accommodation reported to MMR that staff had discovered the rori drying on the rooftop of the building. The Ministry immediately deployed a team of five monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) officers led by Senior Fisheries Officer Saiasi Sarau.
The MMR has been working closely with the New Zealand ministry of fisheries and Police maritime division for the creation of a fisheries MCS compliance unit.
The two Chinese nationals were at the premises at the time of the search and officers explained the legislation and customary laws governing marine resources.
The pair claimed they were on holiday and the rori was for personal use during their stay in Rarotonga.
The couple accompanied the MCS officers to the MMR office where they were interviewed with an interpreter present.
Section 32 of the Marine Resources Act 2005 restricts the export of marine product out of the country. The Act prohibits the export of any fish or fish product unless it is for personal use and does not exceed 50 kg. Any person who breaches the law commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $500,000 and an additional fine equal to the market value of the product.
Ponia says the incident highlights the need for improving the laws surrounding the harvest of sea cucumber. The Ministry is developing regulations for commercial harvest of sea cucumber (rori) and other key species such as giant clam (paua). MMR would set sustainable quota and island governments would license and oversee any harvest.
PHOTO: The dried sea cucumber that was in the possession of the Chinese pair and seized by MMR during a search of their rental accomodation on January 13.