CPUE Think Tank – Monitoring Fish Catch in Fiji

Researchers gather as part of a think thank on catch per unit effort for Fiji.

Fisheries researchers gather for a CPUE think tank

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji and Papua New Guinea programs, University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science, Department of Fisheries and Conservation International’s Hawaii program held a ‘CPUE Think Tank’ in Suva in October, 2015. CPUE stands for ‘catch per unit effort’ and it is used by fisheries managers to monitor fish catch to understand how fish stocks are changing over time.

A number of organisations including the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network have been using a CPUE logbook with data going back as far as 2008. Some of this data have been collected by scientists, while others have been collected by trained community representatives. However, despite time, money and effort, much of this data has not been analysed and therefore not been used to guide or improve fisheries management.

Over the course of a morning, participants of the think tank shared some of the challenges they faced working with CPUE data when it came to collection, storage and analysis. We learnt that fishers in particular use more than one gear type on any given fishing trip, making it difficult to know what fish was caught by what gear type. Recording time spent traveling to a fishing site versus actually fishing was challenging for fishers (who naturally do not wear watches). There were also differences between local names and scientific names for fish and invertebrate species, and local names in Fiji can be highly specific to a geographic location. Participants of the think tank highlighted ways to improve the current logbook to make it easier to use, and to reduce errors made by recorders.

We also thought carefully about what types of management questions CPUE data can help us answer, and which ones were the most important for managers. Some of the key questions highlighted were:

  • Do specific gear types target specific fish groups?
  • How much fish being caught is below the legal size limit for Fiji?
  • What proportion of fish is eaten versus sold?
  • Economic values of fisheries for different villages/districts
  • What distances are fishers traveling to fish and how much time is spent fishing in general?

Over the upcoming months, WCS and USP will be analysing their data to try and answer some of these key questions, and providing more up to date information on how our coastal fisheries in Fiji are doing. We also will be assessing if CPUE surveys are worth investing in, and can they be used to improve fisheries management.

Words by Sangeeta Mangubhai and image by Dwain Qalovaki

Spawning surveyors set to research fish maturity in Fiji

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Dr Jeremy Prince from Biospherics teaches shows participants how to assess size of maturity of reef fish

Over the course of three days, 35 Fijian fisheries scientists and managers successfully completed an intensive training program to assess the size of maturity in key coral reef fish and invertebrates.

Led by fisheries biologist Dr Jeremy Prince from Biospherics in Australia, the training was designed so that those participating in the workshop are equipped with the theoretical knowledge and the practical skills to lead these surveys. Part of the training focused on how to work with local fishers to do the surveys, focusing on fish that are important to local people. The idea being is that if communities better understand when fish mature and are able to reproduce, they will value the role size limits play in sustaining their fisheries.

Fijian Department of Fisheries Extension Officer Mr. Anare Luvunakoro said, “This training will help us better understand the sizes that important food fishes are now maturing at and when they are able to reproduce replenishing our reefs. I am from Kadavu and based at the Fisheries Office on the island; this information will enable our fisherman to make informed choices on the sizes of fish like Ta which they harvest”.

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Looking at the maturity of gonads (reproductive organs) of reef fish in Fiji

Organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society, at least fifty percent of the participants were women who were largely from the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests and the University of the South Pacific.
Wildlife Conservation Society Country Director, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai says that “on a national scale Fiji currently have over 135 management efforts in 410 iqoliqoli areas representing 79 per cent of Fiji’s inshore fishing area. Using this data, and rapid assessment techniques designed for countries with limited resources, we can quickly assess the health of our reef fish stocks and whether we can continue to fish at current levels or whether we need to reduce our fishing effort.”

A number of fish species were highlighted for survey including kawakawa and donu, which are groupers that have been highlighted through the 4FJ Movement, as well as species that are important to communities, like nuqa (rabbitfish), ta (unicornfish) and damu (mangrove snapper).

“Basically, minimum legal fish sizes are not just random or arbitrary numbers. The size limits in Fiji are there to ensure we are not taking fish before they have had a chance to reproduce and contribute to the next generation of fish”, Dr. Mangubhai concluded.

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Participants of the training of trainers course on the assessment of size of maturity of reef fish in Fiji

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and images by Harriet Davies and Sangeeta Mangubhai

Safeguarding wildlife in Lomaiviti province

A traditional fisherman, Rusiate Valenitabua instinctively knows the spawning seasons of different marine animals, fishing techniques unique to his village as well as the role that mangroves play in sheltering communities. From the coastal village of Nukui in Rewa, Rusiate Valenitabua now lives in Lomaiviti as the newly appointed provincial conservation officer.

Rusiate Valenitabua conducting a field survey in the province.

Rusiate Valenitabua conducting a field survey in the province.

Having completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of the South Pacific, the Rewa lad was initially posted to Serua as the provincial conservation officer before being transferred to Lomaiviti in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

En route to a village meeting in the rain

En route to a village meeting in the rain

His vision is to see that the province develops sustainably where people are able to retain the traditional custodianship of resources to ensure that they are able to leave a healthy natural legacy for the children and grandchildren.

Some of the positive steps being undertaken within Lomaiviti include the ongoing conservation efforts on Gau Island to protect the endangered Fiji Petrel and Collared Petrel birds, a coral regeneration project on Caqalai Island and the planting of sandalwood trees as a high value alternative income source for the communities.

At a rural consultation meeting with the Fijian Government's Director of Climate Change, Mr. Peter Emberson.

At a rural consultation meeting with the Fijian Government’s Director of Climate Change, Mr. Peter Emberson.

“There is now a natural resource management strategy in place for the province which we are collectively working toward. In this role, I am in constant interaction with community representatives, government and non-government partners to facilitate public consultations and advance awareness on existing programs such as climate change, natural disaster preparedness as well as to address concerns on unsustainable activities”, said Rusiate Valenitabua.

The communities from Ovalau and Koro are also working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop island-scale management plans for the two islands, that can an ecosystem-based management approach.
The success of these projects and other efforts are now largely the responsibility of the Lomaiviti Province Yaubula Management and Support team which brings together representatives from the different districts to advance the wise use of its natural resources.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and images by the Lomaiviti Provincial Council