25 Jan Rori taken by the ton
Asian pair kick up a stink with drying operation
The removal of masses of sea cucumber from Tikioki lagoon which were then treated in a full-scale home processing operation by two Asians here on visitors’ permits is being investigated by the Ministry of Marine Resources.
Despite the investigation and possible breaches of MMR legislation, Immigration confirmed the couple left Rarotonga on Sunday.
The Asians, a male who registered with Raina Apartments on December 20 as Pan Xian Peng and his female partner Lixia Zhang, had dried about 50kg of sea cucumber in the unit and top third floor area of their rented apartment before being discovered by owner June Baudinet. Many vacuum-packed parcels of the dried seafood, considered a delicacy by Asians, had been hidden away.
It was the smell that first alerted Tikioki accommodation owner June Baudinet that something wasn’t quite right on her property and she put it down to a possible gas bottle leak.
But before she could check the gas bottles on the property, Baudinet says she was asked by a staff member to urgently check the upstairs apartment because something wasn’t right.
Baudinet says she was shocked to find sea cucumbers laid out over her chairs, tables and entire top floor barbecue/dining area.
“Every single space was full of rori,” she says.
The local business woman says the sight made her sick to her stomach, knowing just how much would have been taken from the lagoon to create such a sight.
In addition, the tenants had tried to bribe a Raina Apartment staff member with “very good pay” if he would help with the harvesting.
Locals estimate that 50kg of dried sea cucumber would represent about two tons of the product in its original state. All the entrails appeared to have been removed from the sea cucumbers and were probably discarded in the lagoon, says Baudinet.
She immediately contacted the ministry of Marine Resources and says within five minutes of being discovered, her Asian tenants tried to leave on their motorbike.
Baudinet made her complaint to MMR on Tuesday January 13. She says seven MMR officers visited her home to examine the sea cucumber drying operation and removed all of the product.
A call to MMR two days later to find out progress on the investigation didn’t reveal much for Baudinet, who says she was told a report was still being prepared.
Meanwhile, the Asian tenants refused to leave Baudinet’s property, insisting the drying operation was to provide them food for “dinner.” Police were called to remove the couple, Baudinet saying they had violated her property.
Business partner and daughter Tanya Savage says abusing their property and hospitality in that manner is unacceptable.
What the foreigners did taking such large quantities of a local delicacy from the lagoon is also a public issue, says Savage. Baudinet and Savage are convinced that the couple were preparing the sea cucumber to smuggle overseas.
“Never have I come across a Cook Islander who has raided our lagoon in that manner and quantity for dinner purposes …maybe an ice cream container or bucket, but definitely not that sort of volume,” says Savage.
MMR Inshore Fisheries director Kori Raumea isn’t so sure the couple were intending to export the dried product as they told MMR staff it was for personal consumption.
In addition, Raumea says, “as far as MMR is concerned it was not a commercial operation because they would have to go to BTIB (Business Trade and Investment Board) and get a licence to do that.”
Raumea repeated several times the need for MMR to proceed cautiously and to be “careful how we apply our Act.”
He says a new MMR bill that “deals with these little things” still hasn’t been passed and is “still sitting there.”
On Tuesday Raumea was uncertain whether the Asian couple from Shanghai were still in the country.
June Baudinet told Cook Islands News earlier in the week she didn’t hold any hope of the couple being charged with illegal activity and believed they would leave the country before any investigation was completed and action taken.
National Environment Services director Joseph Brider confirmed regulations for the protection of cucumber from mass removal don’t exist under the Environment Act.
He says a case such as this is typically dealt with by MMR, while NES focusses on terrestrial species.
Brider said he wasn’t prepared to comment until MMR had completed its investigation.