Ra’ui is implemented in the Cook Islands to maintain sustainable levels of harvesting marine resources
The government says it has no intention to legislate Ra’ui to manage the country’s reef and lagoons, opting instead to introduce contemporary approaches that aim to address perceived over-harvesting of resources.
The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) is looking at modern approaches to address management issues concerning the harvesting of seafood.
The issue was brought to the fore in March after Titikaveka MP Selina Napa raised concerns over the harvesting and selling of Avake (sea urchin) in Rarotonga.
Napa said she was concerned with overharvesting of avake and excessive fishing using nets in reef passages at night in her constituency.
The government has acknowledged more regulatory tools, in addition to the use of the customary Ra’ui system, are needed to address concerns over sustainability.
Commenting on the matter in his capacity as Minister of Marine Resources, Prime Minister Mark Brown said the government is tackling the issue through “contemporary” approaches. “There is a definite need to regulate for the purpose of sustainably managing the use of our lagoon and reef resources,” he said.
MMR is currently working with stakeholders and traditional leaders in developing awareness tools and guidelines in both English and Maori for Rarotonga and the Pa Enua, with an aim to change the behaviour of those who look to the lagoon and reef as a source of food.
Included will be detailed on sustainable harvesting practices such as minimum size requirements, avoiding spawning species such as crabs and crayfish with eggs, as well as best practices with gear such as fishing nets.
MMR and other stakeholders have recognised a lack of compliance for Ra’ui on some islands, however, PM Brown said the ministry is not looking at regulating Ra’ui and incorporating the practice into law, hence the development of alternative approaches.
“Ra’ui is a customary practice that should not be undermined through this work,” he said. “It is something our ancestors used, and it is important that we preserve traditional management systems and knowledge such as Ra’ui as much as possible.”
Ra’ui is used effectively in Mangaia, Pukapuka and Manihiki, Brown said, however, they have ceased to be effective in managing resources in other parts of the country. “… it has become more apparent, that our communities no longer hold the same level of mana and respect for Ra’ui that they used to,” he said.
“The issue however is broader than the use of Ra’ui. It is about implementing stronger management measures across the Cook Islands so that lagoon and reef resources can maintain sustainable levels of harvesting by our people.
“It is important to recognise that our society and way of living has changed over time and that our traditional management systems might not always be the best approach for different marine resource management issues.”
MMR has completed marine resource surveys and assessments in a number of islands and is midway through surveys on Rarotonga.
The ministry says data from the surveys will provide a baseline for establishing fishery regulations and lagoon management plans.