Establishing World-Leading Tuna Fishing Practices in the Cook Islands

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Though home to just 18,000 residents, the Cook Islands have a big vision for a sustainable future.  In an unprecedented move, they designated their entire marine territory (about 1.5 times the size of Mexico) as a multiple-use marine protected area—the world’s largest. In accordance with the Marae Moana (“Sacred Ocean”) Act of 2017, key stakeholders have joined local and national government actors as they work to establish sustainable policies and practices for the management of major economic activities, including tourism, seabed mining, and fishing.

Strict rules for the protected area’s use, along with the conflicting priorities and entrenched interests of its numerous stakeholders, present significant challenges. Still, Marae Moana is an opportunity to create measurable benefit for Cook Islanders.

Blu Skye, in partnership with the Cook Islands’ Government and international NGO partners, took this opening to nurture a “gold standard” concept for Marae Moana’s albacore tuna, ensuring that their fisheries represent the world’s best in quality, sustainability, social justice, cultural benefit, and commercial viability.

Formalizing a corresponding set of criteria and standards is crucial, but uniting a diverse set of stakeholders as they confront the challenges of a complex marine system is no small feat.

Blu Skye designed, facilitated, and managed a three-day workshop in the Cook Islands. Its participants included government (even the Prime Minister was in attendance), traditional island leaders, marine scientists, local and international NGOs, and commercial/supply chain partners.  Together, we developed a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the Cook Islands’ tuna fisheries and outlined key elements of the gold standard including a path to market. Giving everyone a chance to be heard not only promoted cooperation, but also resulted in a stronger, more comprehensive strategy.

Set to host the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) in the spring of 2020, the Cook Islands will unveil their finalized plans for the future of Marae Moana’s tuna fisheries and demonstrate a way forward for the rest of the South Pacific.

The effort’s success can be attributed to key principles, including:

  • Their meeting, not ours: Collaboratively designing the meeting with key stakeholder representatives builds ownership and commitment to act.  We worked weekly with a steering committee to identify and invite the right participants, design an engaging and culturally appropriate meeting, explore commercial interest, and manage logistics.

  •  Go slow to go fast: Ensuring all participants have the same fact-base to work from means more time creating together instead of listening together.  We developed a “pre-read” for participants, which was informed by interviews, research, data, and knowledge from content experts.

  • Owning the deliverable: Over the course of 2.5 days, we guided the participants to create a presentation on what they envisioned the standard would represent.Key leaders presented the proposal to the Prime Minister and select Cabinet members at the end of the meeting.It was their deliverable, not ours.