Purse Seiner non grata: Privy Council Wades into Pacific fisheries

Publication Name

Marine Policy


William Framhein & another v Attorney General [of the Cook Islands] was heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on 17 November 2021, with the judgment released on 28 February 2022. The case concerned a judicial review of three decisions made by the Cook Islands Government in relation to the establishment of its purse seine fishery in 2013, which is subject to international management arrangements made by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. The three decisions at issue were the making of the Skipjack Tuna Purse Seine Fishery Plan 2013, the promulgation of the Marine Resources (Purse Seine Fishery) Regulations 2013, and the adoption and signature of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement and Implementation Protocol with the European Union. The case was brought by a private citizen and traditional leader, Mr William Framheim, together with a local environmental NGO, Te Ipukarea Society. The Applicants brought the case to the High Court of the Cook Islands in 2017 and, following the Court's dismissal of their claim, appealed to the Court of Appeal in 2018. Both parties appealed elements of the Court of Appeal's decision to the Privy Council, which is the Cook Islands’ highest appeal court. Ultimately, the government prevailed on its cross-appeal to the Privy Council, and the Applicants’ appeal was dismissed. The case centers on the interaction between customary international law, the international fisheries legal regime, and domestic law (including indigenous customary law). The findings are significant not just for the Cook Islands, but for all Commonwealth countries engaged in fishing that rely on the Privy Council as a final court of appeal.

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Funding Sponsor

Ocean Nexus Center, EarthLab, University of Washington



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