Climate Change | NEWS

Islanders Living Off The Sea Tell Of Struggle To Find Their Catch

For communi­ties in Fiji’s maritime is­lands, the ocean is a source of sustenance.
26 Jun 2022 12:15
Islanders Living Off The Sea Tell Of Struggle To Find Their Catch
Inset: Fisherman Iliapi Tavunia. Fishermen and divers deliver their catch to the Labasa Fish Market. Photo: Nick Sas

For communi­ties in Fiji’s maritime is­lands, the ocean is a source of sustenance.

For them, the ocean is life. They depend on it for food, and as a source of wealth and leisure.

This is no different for villages and communities off the coast of the Macuata Province.

However, there is a strong trend that they’ve observed over the years – the depleting number of marine resources they are harvesting now compared to what they harvested some 10 to 15 years ago.

Fisherman, Iliapi Tavunia, can at­test to this.

He grew up on his home island of Kavewa in the Nadogo District, Macuata.

The 45 year-old grew up depend­ing solely on the harvest from the ocean to keep his family going.

Today, with the depleting marine resources, he has been forced to consider other alternatives.

“Before we wouldn’t have to go right into the deep ocean to be able to catch fish or other seafood, we would just walk a few metres and we would be greeted with so many marine resources,” he said.

“Now you can’t see that anymore. That is very rare.

“You can catch fish but not as much as before, we would some­times assume that there is hardly anything left for us.

“It has really changed and we have been enlightened on it as well by various civil society organisations that visit us.”

WWF-Pacific

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Pacific, there may be a number of reasons for this includ­ing the overharvest by the commu­nities and surrounding communi­ties themselves.

Fiji Conservation Director WWF-Pacific, Francis Areki, said overharvesting coupled with the impacts of climate change and re­curring disasters have an impact on reef productivity such as coral bleaching and damages to reef sys­tems during cyclones.

“It is a concern which WWF tries to address with communities such as promoting sustainable fisher­ies practices, establishing commu­nity protected areas and also link­ing this to resilient actions which strengthen their fishing grounds to recover and from further degrada­tion.”

A Woman’s perspective

Divuna Rukalesi, 65, of Druadrua, Namuka, Macuata has lived long enough to also notice changes in the ocean resources.

Divuna Rukalesi, 65, of Druadrua, Namuka, Macuata. Photo: Nick Sas

Divuna Rukalesi, 65, of Druadrua, Namuka, Macuata. Photo: Nick Sas

Ms Rukalesi said during her younger days, she would enjoy an abundance of seafood that she would harvest for her family.

“Before I would just fish out here and I would catch fish just near the mangrove swamp and I would get in a lot of fish, in abundance. Now that’s not the case.”

She added that they would even harvest turtles but that would be enjoyed by the villagers – that was also not the case anymore.

“Today it has changed. Because of what we are noticing, we are pre­serving turtles, we are preserving our fishing grounds simply because we need to conserve them.”

How is it affecting market?

Sereima Tara has been a fish seller at the Labasa market for more than 10 years.

Sereima Tara sells at the Labasa Fish Market daily. Photo: Nick Sas

Sereima Tara sells at the Labasa Fish Market daily. Photo: Nick Sas

Ms Tara is also directly impacted. Her daily fish supply has reduced.

“Before a diver would come with 50 to 60 bundles of fish to sell to us but today you would be even lucky to get 20 bundles knowing that there are quite a lot of fish sellers here,” she said.

“Sometimes we get to 30 bundles if there has been a lot of catch.

“Then there is the problem of some divers coming in with under­sized fish. Even now, divers still come in with undersized fish.

“I have been a fish market vendor for more than 10 years and I’ve no­ticed the drastic change.”

Ms Tara said they were often forced to sell fish at fluctuating prices depending on the harvest that are brought to them by the di­vers.

WWF Report

A recent study report released by the WWF during the Fiji Sea­scape Symposium earlier this year stated that strengthening marine protected areas should be executed to address the steep decline in fish stocks on the Fiji Great Sea Reef along the coast of Macuata.

The study revealed that there was a 33 per cent decline in fish abun­dance as well as a decline in fish sizes.

The study report on the Great Sea Reef is a culmination of findings made by Marine scientists in 2019 through the WWF.

The report recommended that existing marine protected areas should be expanded, and new effec­tive conservation measures imple­mented.

It also suggested that strengthen­ing fishing restrictions were need­ed as there was a decline in marine species population along the Great Sea Reef that stretches for over 450 kilometers surrounding the north­ern and western coasts of Fiji’s two main islands.

Feedback: inoke.rabonu@fijisun.com.fj



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