Ministry: Illegal Harvesting, Trading Of Bech-De-Mer, A Big Worry

The Ministry of Fisheries has had to fine a merchant up to $80,000. This has been for the illegal harvesting and trade of bech-de-mer (sea cucumbers) in Fijian waters.
29 Mar 2022 15:09
Ministry: Illegal Harvesting, Trading Of Bech-De-Mer, A Big Worry
Minister for Fisheries Semi Koroilavesau. Photo: Inoke Rabonu

The Ministry of Fisheries has had to fine a merchant up to $80,000.

This has been for the illegal harvesting and trade of bech-de-mer (sea cucumbers) in Fijian waters.

Fisheries Minister, Semi Koroilavesau, yesterday revealed that this was after a particular trader had to be fined twice.


He committed the offence a second time, after being fined by authorities previously.

He said the issue of illegal harvesting and trading of bech-de-mer continued to be a huge issue with the ministry as the fine seemed to be a payable amount for merchants trading illegally.

He added that individuals who were caught in the act were fined $10,000 and merchants are fined $40,000.


“We have cases that are still pending in court,” he said.

“We have fined merchants $40,000 and of concern is that we have had a case where a merchant has been fined twice for $80,000.

“The lucrativeness of that business is quite huge; they are fined but they still re-offend.


“This is an issue that we continue to deal with all the time.”

He added that there had been cases where these merchants were reportedly asking villagers to harvest bech-de-mer in their qoliqoli (fishing grounds) areas promising villages a boat, an engine and scholarship for their children.

“There have been a lot of unfair dealings.


“We can’t be in all areas, the penalties are harsh for individuals illegally harvesting; they pay $10,000 and companies $40,000.”

He said the ministry had strengthened its monitoring on the ground where their intelligence teams and investigation unit were observing the illegal traders.

However, he added that their teams were not able to cover all areas at once.


Bech-de-mer Ban To Be Lifted

Mr Koroilavesau said that he had just signed the final document for the lifting of the bech-de-mer ban in the past week.

“It has not been an overnight exercise, the final document I had just signed last week,” he said.

“So that basically will be sent to cabinet and once cabinet endorses it, the Prime Minister will make an announcement.


“The Prime Minister will make an announcement on the day that will be confirmed.”

The ban would be lifted for four months.

He added that there were restrictions in place to ensure the viability of the resources.


“The sustainability issue is a big problem,” he said.

“Why we put a ban on bech-de-mer is for the same reason that it was harvested to zero level.

“So we thought five years has been the practice in other Pacific islands where they breed naturally and they come up to a comfortable position.

“But because of COVID, the Government has decided to lift the ban, allow our resource owners to harvest and after three to four months, when they have generated income out of that harvest then we will consider the next move.”


Control Harvest

He said the ministry had put in place a mechanism called control harvest to ensure that harvesting during the lift of the ban was controlled.

“So the control harvest is basically the Ministry of Fisheries will have officers stationed on the ground to actually see the harvest, sizes, and species and make sure that the return given to resource owners is fair.

“Secondly, you cannot go to another qoliqoli and harvest.”


He said only Fijians endorsed in the VKB in a particular qoliqoli would be able to harvest.

“They harvest it and there is a point of sale where the fisheries officer will also be there to see that the people that come to buy and the resource owners have transparent and fair dealings.

“That is what has been covered now, the point of sale will be Labasa, Lautoka and Suva so that we have a controlled harvest.”



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