Protecting Coral Coast fisheries

By Victor Bonito (Victor Bonito is a coral reef ecologist and founder of Reef Explorer, a Fiji-based research and development company established to support community-based marine conservation efforts in Fiji. 
03 Jun 2012 10:29

TOP: Workshop participants from the four districts pose with fisheries officers for a group photo.

By Victor Bonito
(Victor Bonito is a coral reef ecologist and founder of Reef Explorer, a Fiji-based research and development company established to support community-based marine conservation efforts in Fiji.  Active in coral reef research and conservation efforts around the world for over 14-years, Victor has a broad knowledge of coral reef ecosystems and a wealth of experience working with a broad spectrum of stakeholders on resource management issues.)

Enforcement of Fiji’s fisheries laws will now be bolstered along the Coral Coast thanks to 60 men and women from the districts of Komave, Korolevu-i-Wai, Koroinasau, and Conua who recently completed their training as honorary fish wardens.
The fish warden’s training, hosted by the Korolevu-i-Wai environment committee and Reef Explorer, was conducted in Vatualalai Village from May 15 to 17 by the Department of Fisheries, just two months after a comprehensive review of current marine management efforts by the four districts identified and discussed enforcement and compliance issues.
Appointed for the prevention and detection of offenses under the Fisheries Act, the fish wardens are empowered under the Fisheries Act for the purpose of enforcement to be able to check the licences, catch, and gear of people engaged in fishing activity; if there is reasonable evidence an offense has been committed, the fish warden can take the alleged offender and evidence to the nearest police post or port.
“We are grateful to the Department of Fisheries for conducting this three-day training with us and look forward to fulfilling our roles as honorary fish wardens” mata ni tikina Korolevu-i-Wai, Laisiasa Waqavatu said.
“We are looking forward to the newly-trained fish wardens to be a big boost to our marine management efforts along the coral coast by assisting with enforcement and compliance to fisheries laws.”
During the training, participants were taught about the laws governing Fiji’s fisheries and their responsibilities and powers to enforce them as fish wardens as well as clarified issues of concern with the fisheries officers who conducted the training.
In order to regulate commercial use of the qoliqoli and recognise native customary fishing rights, Fiji’s fisheries laws require people who catch fish or any aquatic animal by way of trade or business in any qoliqoli to have a permit and licence issued by the Department of Fisheries.
The qoliqoli owners play an important role in the permitting process and thus management of inshore fisheries.
To minimise damage to aquatic habitats and populations, Fiji laws also prohibits the use of some fishing gears like the use of duva or chemicals, the use of SCUBA or other underwater breathing apparatus for catching or collecting aquatic animals unless licensed to do so from the Fisheries Department, and nets with mesh sizes below certain limits.
To help protect populations of fish and marine species that have great ecological significance or are endangered, there are minimum size limits that fish and other marine life must be larger than in order to be legally kept or bought and sold, and the harvesting of some species is completely banned without consent from the Fisheries Department.
“Going through the laws that pertain to fisheries with the fisheries officers was a valuable exercise and great learning experience for all the trainees” mata ni tikina of Komave, Voate Vasekavu said.
“Now we need to raise awareness about the fisheries laws across our districts and why people should comply with them.”
While the communities who participated in the workshop have been active in the management of their local fisheries, they recognise the need to strengthen linkages across districts to tackle common violations of fisheries laws.
“We were happy that the Department of Fisheries conducted the training for our four districts together as we fish wardens plan to work with each other to fulfil our responsibilities” chairman of the Korolevu-i-Wai Environment Committee, Jowasa Kuribola said.
“Ensuring the sustainability of our fisheries is a big job, and we hope that our local police will work closely with the new fish wardens to address violations of fisheries laws.”
Fiji’s coral reefs and their associated fisheries are an important source of food and livelihood opportunities for the nation.
However, people often times take these resources for granted and do not think about the impact that overexploitation and poor development practices have on our reefs and inshore fisheries.
“Ensuring there are fish for the future is everyone’s responsibility to future generations” the Western divisional representative for the Fiji locally-managed marine areas network, Kini Viliame said.
“We must all do our part to look after our marine resources for the benefit of our Vanua and country.”

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