The Cook Islands government has established a 50 nautical mile exclusion zones around each of the islands in the group.
Cabinet this week agreed unanimously to the increased buffer zones which the country's traditional leaders, the Marae Moana Marine Park Project and environmental group Te Ipukarea Society have been lobbying for the past four years.
The Society's Kelvin Passfield told Don Wiseman they are delighted.
KELVIN PASSFIELD: Yes we are very happy with outcome. 50 nautical miles is a significant increase over the current situation which is 12 nautical miles and it is also a big increase over what the Ministry of Marine Resources was proposing, which was 24 nautical miles. 50 nautical miles means we have got a meaningful area of protection area around our islands now, and from the viewpoint of the Marae Moana marine park, I think we can now safely say that we honestly do have a marine park that means something.
DON WISEMAN: What is it do you think that changed the government's mind, because as you say the Ministry of Marine Resources wanted a far smaller exclusion zone. So what changed the government's mind?
KP: Well the Ministry of Marine Resources was saying that a bigger zone than 24 nautical miles - if we went out to 50, that would kill the commercial fishery, the foreign long line and purse seine fishery. But we actually found a report prepared for the Minstry of Marine Resources from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community fisheries division, which showed clearly that most fish are caught outside 50 nautical miles. So when Cabinet were presented with this information they could see it wouldn't be so bad afterall as far as loss of income went by closing out to 50 miles. And in addition we aware that the island council and the traditional chiefs of Pukapuka and Nassau, where most of the foreign fishing takes place, they sent a letter to Cabinet asking to give 100 nautical mile zones around their islands. They felt that was what was necessary to protect their livelihoods, their future. So I think those two things had a big impact on Cabinet's decision.
DW: Now the Marae Moana it has been on the books for 3 years and as you said earlier this 50 mile limit helps to make that just a whole lot more workable I guess. How far away are you from getting the Marae Moana fully established?
KP: Well I think this was just about the last stumbling block, to get agreement from Cabinet on just how big these exclusion zones would be, and we are very happy that Cabinet has made the right decision in this case. The next step is to get parliament to pass the Marae Moana bill. Parliament hasn't sat for some time but they do have to sit to pass the Budget before July. So we are hoping that the next sitting of Parliament that the legislation will be approved by parliament and that will really put the Marae Moana on a firm footing. At the moment it has just been basically words and talk that sound really good in theory but this is going to put into practice.