Women Contribute To Ongoing Research Efforts In The Fisheries Ministry

Given the vast size of the ocean, it is impossible to know the exact number of species that live there. Research suggests, however, that the num­ber of species in the ocean is de­creasing.
03 Apr 2023 18:45
Women Contribute To Ongoing Research Efforts In The Fisheries Ministry
From left-right: Mereoni Taga, Pitila Waqainabete (second from left) Meliki Rakuro, Salome Tuimaloku (second from right) and Diana Divalotu during their latest Assessment Survey in Yasawa.

Given the vast size of the ocean, it is impossible to know the exact number of species that live there. Research suggests, however, that the num­ber of species in the ocean is de­creasing. The continued decline in the health of many ecosystems, coupled with rising extinction rates, are likely outpacing the dif­ferent species’ ability to evolve to tolerate the conditions of our rap­idly changing planet.

There is a direct connection be­tween scientific research and policy development and decisions. Governments need to make deci­sions based on quality scientific information behind major global challenges such as climate change, ocean health, biodiversity loss and freshwater security. On the other hand, scientists must understand the problems policy-makers face and endeavor to make the results of their research relevant and com­prehensible to society.

Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry, Atelaite Rokosuka said this connection must be harnessed to ensure poli­cy’s developed and decisions made are relevant to the needs of its us­ers. She added that this is made possible through the work of the Ministry’s Research Division.

“Their focus is to ensure that high value niche products are re­searched and findings shared to interest groups with the ulitimate goal of relieving pressure from our coastal fisheries resources. Moreso that the ecosystem based fisheries management approach – is at the core of the Ministry’s roles. When this is managed and sustained well, trickle down effects on food secu­rity and economic growth will be realised,” explained Ms Rokosuka.

Meet the all-female team

The past years have seen the team at the Ministry of Fisheries grow­ing with more females joining what was once a male dominant field.

The Research team in particular holds a dear place for many who have risen through the ranks as they can testify that joining the Ministry starts with a stint at the Research Division.

35-year old Pitila Waqainabete hails from Keteira Village in Moala Lau with maternal links in Caka­udrove, Vanua Levu.

“Growing up, I’ve always been passionate about the environment as a whole and loving the outdoors. Dad hailed from a coastal commu­nity and Mum from the rainforests of Vanualevu which gave me a sense of ownership to protect that link from the ridge to the reef.

“But, I also wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, to be an SAS soldier. Unfortunately, it was a red light from my mother, and there was also no female intake back then. This of course led me to focus on the environmental field,” added Ms Waqainabete.

With over 10 years’ experience in the field of research, Ms Waqaina­bete says that every time they jump into the open seas to conduct moni­toring of Marine Protected Areas (MPAS’s) or assessment surveys, they have to ensure that they are physically and mentally prepared.

“We have to check that all gears are serviced and ready and good to go. This ensures that we do not face any difficulties when out at sea.”

Hard working Diana Divalotu is 38 years old and has spent over 13 years with the Ministry Research Division.

Hailing from Natuvu Village in Saqani, Cakaudrove but raised in Nadogo, Macuata, Ms Divalotu says that her interest in marine science began when she started her studies at the University of the South Pacific (USP).

“My grandparents had raised me and they were sugar-cane farmers so my interest was really into ag­riculture. But after changing my subjects at USP, I knew that I was onto something really important and this of course built my inter­est to learn about the marine eco­system and its associated fisheries resources,” said Ms Divalotu.

Now, a Fisheries Assistant with the Research Division, Ms Divalotu says that the work that they do is really important.

“Through my work, I mostly as­sist the team in conducting sur­veys which is a vital component of the stock assessment process and is the primary source of fish­ery-independent data. Therefore, through conducting surveys, I am able to collect quality and quan­titative data that will be able to provide information to our fisher­ies managers on the status of fish­ery at a particular fishing ground in terms of age structure of fish populations, relative abundance of stocks and the overall health of a fishing ground,” explained Ms Di­valotu.

Rakuro follows her heart

39 year old Meliki Rakuro cur­rently holds the position of Fish­eries Technical Officer and is based in Lautoka. She hails from Nabukelevu I Ra Village in Kadavu with maternal links in Vatulele, Koro, Lomaiviti.

“Growing up, I always dreamt of becoming a medical doctor. When I joined university, I then realized that fish and fisheries are an in­tegral part of most societies and make important contributions to economic and social health and well-being in many countries and areas hence the change in my study interest,” she smiled.

“This will be my 13th year in the Ministry and my role is to super­vise, organize and support the im­plementation of research, resource assessment and development activ­ities in the division also including the assessment of impact of fish­ing method utilization.”

“Additional to that, I supervise and support the implementation and delivery of all aquaculture pro­grams in the division (freshwater, brackish water, mari culture pro­grams and food security programs) and the subsequent monitoring of these programs and projects at the community right through to com­mercial level,” added Ms Rakuro.

“I am working towards attaining my diver certification but I always ensure that when out snorkeling, I am always with my partner. This ensures safety and of course im­mediate assistance when needed.”

Ms Rakuro says that the assess­ment of the status of the target stock and the method used togeth­er with appropriate data collection and management through an ef­fective survey design is therefore an important pre requisite to re­source assessment to support effec­tive decision making by the Execu­tive Management.

Women in the Ministry continue to play important roles in ensuring that our fisheries is managed,
sustained and protected for generations to come

Tuimaloku invested in fisheries work from a young age

30-year old Salome Tuimaloku hails from Malawai Village in Gau, Lomaiviti.

“Whilst growing up, I witnessed how my father used to come back from his fishing trips with a vari­ety of fish. My family relied a lot on money earned from the sea and it made me want to explore more about fisheries. I really wanted to study ways of protecting and pre­serving the marine ecosystem for our future generations.”

Now into her fifth year in the Min­istry, Ms Tuimaloku’s roles include conducting i-Qoliqoli surveys (bio­logical (in-water survey) and socio-economics (in-land survey) such as MPA’s Assessment, Fisheries impact assessment, Inventory Sur­veys, BDM Surveys (Invertebrates) as well as consultations.

“Being a female in a mostly male dominated industry can be chal­lenging at times nut of course we are always grateful to our male counterparts for their support and encouragement,” she smiled.

As a certified diver, Ms Tuimaloku says that all diving gear must be thoroughly checked.

“I would always check to see that my diving gears are all in place and functional, ensure that I am well hydrated and have enough water and snacks on board, always do a buddy check and most importantly pray before I start.”

“I believe that while a fishery might have a high score for man­agement, sustainability is likely to be difficult to achieve without bio­logical knowledge. With Fisheries assessment we are able to estimate the size of fish stocks and provide guidance to communities on the amount of fish which can be caught to keep their stocks at sustainable levels,” added Ms Tuimaloku.

GIS Officer applies her skills to fisheries

25 year old Mereoni Taga hails from Votua Village, Lekutu in Bua and is the GIS officer for the Min­istry.

“My role as a GIS Officer is to cap­ture spatial information, analyse and visually present it on maps and webmap applications.”

“Since joining the Ministry three years ago, my interest in fisheries has grown and it has been really in­teresting to learn about Fiji’s Fish­eries and learning how to apply my skills in this field,” explained Ms Taga.

Ms Taga added that GIS plays a vital role in fisheries manage­ment and sustainability as it gives a clear picture of the spatial-tem­poral distribution and stock of marine species in selected study areas; identifies boundaries of marine protected areas and fish­ing grounds as well as aquaculture areas.

The Ministry is grateful for the expertise and dedication that the women have brought into the Min­istry and hope that more women will be able to invest their time and knowledge on fisheries manage­ment.

“Fisheries will continue to play an integral part in our planet and we need to be thinking of ways and means of sustaining it for years to come. Greater collaboration with research institution and partners is an area of strengthening as the Ministry delves into maintaining the connectivity between science and policy development and deci­sions. I take my hat off to all the women in the Ministry for the roles that they play in ensuring that our fisheries is managed, sustained and protected for generations to come,” smiled Ms Rokosuka.

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Story By: Ministry Of Fisheries And Forestry


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