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EEZ and Fishing


The Cook Islands Territorial Seas extend for 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from each island (a nautical mile (nm) is 1.85km and is 15% longer than a normal land mile).

Around each of the 15 islands is a marine protected area extending 50 nautical miles from each island and encircling the island. The marine protected areas prohibit large-scale commercial fishing and seabed minerals activities.    

The Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends for 200nm (370km) from each island, except where a neighbouring country’s land is within 400nm (740km) of the Cook Islands land area. In this instance, the distance between the two land masses is divided in two.


There are two types of commercial fishing boats permitted to fish in our waters – longline and purse seine vessels. The Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources licences both the Cook Islands and foreign-flagged vessels to fish in our EEZ.

Longline vessels mainly catch albacore tuna but they also catch some yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
Lines with baited hooks are strung at evenly spaced intervals along a central fishing line, which can be up to 100 km in length (FAO, 2003). The longline fishery is managed by the Marine Resources (Large Pelagic Longline Fishery and Quota Management System) regulations 2016, which includes the Large Pelagic Longline Fishery Plan. The Plan sets a Total Allowable Commercial Catch limit of 9 698mt for albacore and 2500mt for big eye.

Purse seine fishing vessels set a large net around a school of fish. They close the net at the bottom, similar to closing a purse. This fishery primarily targets skipjack tuna. Sometimes purse seiners drop FADs (Fish Aggregation Devices) in the water to attract a school of fish, though this is only permitted at certain times of the year. The purse seine fishery is managed under the Marine Resources (Purse Seine Fishery) Regulations 2013, and the Skipjack Tuna Purse Seine Fishery Plan (2013). The Regulations prescribe a maximum of 1 250 days of fishing for skipjack annually.

These fisheries are managed under international management arrangements set by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WPCFC). The Cook Islands is a Member of the WCPFC and is bound by its decisions. The Cook Islands is required to report fisheries data to the WCPFC so that it can be considered in regional scientific and technical analysis that form the basis of these management arrangements.

For more information, contact the Ministry of Marine Resources


A study of the stomach contents of yellowfin tuna showed that they adapt their diet according to what is available in their environment. The main prey is fish, with squid being the second most important (Allain,2005). The study found the following animals are part of their diet: crustaceans, flying fish, skipjack tuna, other tuna, deep-sea fish (such as lancetfish and barracudina), puffer fish, crab larvae and reef fish (such as triggerfish, surgeonfish and rabbitfish). This shows that the tuna food web may extend across large scales from the coral reef to the surface of the ocean to the deep ocean. Fishing that affects one part of the food web, has the potential to impact on the food supply for tuna. 

Allain, V 2005. What do tuna eat? A tuna diet study. SPC Fisheries Newsletter #12, New Caldedonia

FAO, 2003. Managing Fishing Capacity of the World Tuna Fleet