Posted inStory / Cook Islands

Cook Islands fish shortage ‘worst it’s ever been’

Cook Islands Fishing Association president says climate change and global fishing are the possible cause for the shortage of fish.

Cook Islands fishing boats are coming back mostly empty, some of the people affected say it’s normal while others say it’s the worst it’s ever been.

“We’ve never had (fish) supply this low before,” says Fresh Fish Company owner Timothy Vaikai said.

He made the comments based on the 11 years of data the Rarotonga business has operated for.

The company acts as a middle man between the local fishermen and buyers.

Vaikai said some people think the shortage is due to tourism demand but the problem is completely to do with supply.

“At the moment a fisherman is only catching one or two days a week,” he said.

It’s normal for the fishing to be quiet this time of year but Vaikai said it’s far quieter than normal.

Cook Islands Fishing Association president Don Beer said the situation is “not good”.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Beer said.

“We should have plenty of wahoo this time of year. We’re right in the wahoo season right now and wahoo isn’t here.

“For the visitors that are here, a lot are astonished there is no fish.”

Beer said the cause of the lack of fish is not known yet but thinks global fishing and climate change could have caused the issue.

Vou Williams, the owner of Bite Time Café at the Punanga Nui Market, said the situation has been “really bad”.

Williams gets to fish once a week when Ocean Fresh opens on Fridays.

He managed to get some fish over from Aitutaki in the past week but even in Aitutaki, he feels things are slowing down.

As a backup, Williams said he would try and sell other seafood meals like prawns or maybe Hoki (fish).

Another restaurant owner Ray Roumanu of Ray’s Hut said: “No fish is common this time of year because it’s the offseason.”

“Fishermen have hiked the prices and I can’t afford it,” Roumanu said.

When the border was closed, Roumanu stocked up on fish but is now down to his last 10 kilograms of mahi-mahi.

Wahoo Fishing Charters owner Wayne Stewart is not too concerned about the slow fishing. He said this happens once or twice a year.

“Every year is different,” Stewart said, “it doesn’t happen at the same time every year but it does happen.”

He said people just need to grin and bear with the slow times.

The Fresh Fish Company is selling tuna at $26 (US$17) a kilogram while the other major retailer had tuna selling for $35 (US$24).

Vaikai said he feels a “moral obligation” to keep the price as cheap as possible.

At this price, fish is still $5 to $10(US$3.45- US$6.91) cheaper than in New Zealand but the price difference is normally a lot bigger, he said.

“I would hate for someone to come to the Pacific and be able to buy fish cheaper in a big city.

“But if things stay this way, we will have to increase our price.”

This story was produced by Caleb Fotheringham, published at Cook Islands News on 20 July 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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