19 Mar 2003

Cook Islands to increase penalties for boats fishing illegally

10:39 am on 19 March 2003

The Cook Islands plans to introduce much harsher penalties for boats caught fishing illegally in its exclusive economic zone.

Navy Epati, the secretary of Marine Resources, says there are mounting concerns over mainly Asian boats coming in and taking out stock, following the sighting of a vessel in their EEZ last week.

Mr Epati says maximum fines of 275,000 US dollars for the captain and owner will be increased and their boats will be forfeited.

"The trend is to be harsh as possible. Right now we have to apply to the court once we catch a boat, for forfeiture. We are going to change that and make it automatic that any vessel that's caught is forfeited immediately, and they have to apply to the court to have it released."

Mr Epati says the new Marine Resources Act will be presented to parliament at its next session.

The Cook Islands will also be asking Australia and New Zealand at their annual discussions to increase the twice weekly surveillance flights.