WCS-Fiji: Busy but Fulfilling Year

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Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director, WCS-Fiji

2015 has been a busy but fulfilling year for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji Country Program, as we launched a number of fisheries initiatives including a Women in Fisheries Programme to support the economic empowerment of rural fisherwomen in Fiji.

Our management team has assisted the remaining districts in Bua Province come to the near completion of their ecosystem-based management plans, and the communities of Koro and Ovalau commence their island-based plans. WCS is now working closely with the Provincial office and district representatives to synthesize district plans into a single integrated coastal management plan for Bua Province building on the three pillars of environment, people and development.

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WCS and Department of Fisheries staff conducting sea cucumber surveys in Bua Province

In partnership with the Department of Fisheries, our science team developed new survey and analytical skills to understand the value chains of key invertebrate fisheries in Fiji. We also applied a new analytical framework called the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database to assess the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of locally managed marine areas and tabu areas in Fiji. Dr. Stacy Jupiter continued to lead complementary work to look at the impacts of periodic harvests from tabu areas which will be developed into guidance for best practice management that can be shared all across Fiji.

 

WCS continued to play a strong role on the Protected Areas Committee in 2015, and has been invited to join the BIOFIN Committee under the Department of Environment, and Fisheries Offshore Marine Reserve Committee under the Department of Fisheries. In the upcoming months, we will evaluate our conservation work to date and will formulate a new 5 year strategy for WCS-Fiji for launch in 2016, that feeds into a larger Melanesia Strategy. We will continue our commitments to integrated coastal management, ecosystem-based management at district and islands-scale, providing high-quality, scientifically-sound guidance on protected area management and policy, and fostering the enabling conditions for sustainable coastal fisheries management in 2016, while expanding our work on payments for ecosystem services.

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Margaret Fox conducting socioeconomic interviews to look at impact of locally managed marine areas

Our Annual Report for 2015 I now available for downloading from

http://www.wcsfiji.com/Resources/Annual-Reports.aspx

On behalf of the WCS Fiji team, we look forward to continuing and strengthening our partnerships in country and the region, while exploring new opportunities for collaboration. We thank everyone for their support and look forward to a productive and inspiring 2016.

Vinaka vaka levu,

Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director, WCS Fiji

 

 

Images by Francis Mangubhai (top), Sangeeta Mangubhai (middle), Stacy Jupiter (bottom)

Supporting women fishers in Fiji through innovative partnerships

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Mud crabs (Scylla serrata) are commonly found in every municipal market in Fiji, with large adults fetching upwards of FJ$100/crab. These animals are traditionally harvested and sold by rural women from coastal areas. Commonly known as qari, mud crabs are considered a Fijian delicacy reserved for special occasions.

However, over harvesting though has led to declining stocks and an increase in sale of undersized mud crabs, as well as increased prices as restaurants and hotels also compete for a share of this dwindling commodity. This fishery appears to be at a tipping point, and without intervention we anticipate this species may become locally extinct in many parts of the country. There is very little data and information to enable the sustainable management of this important fishery in Fiji.

Last month, a new partnership was formed between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Women in Fisheries Network – Fiji (WiFN – Fiji) and Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network (FLMMA) to improve the livelihoods and management of the Fiji mud crab fishery using good science, sound management practices and business entrepreneurship. Supported by the Flora Family Foundation and David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Ministry for Women, we will support and promote women-led businesses based on sustainable harvest and management of mud crabs in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

WCS – Fiji Country Director, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai says “the Wildlife Conservation Society will provide scientific and technical support to strengthen existing community management through a direct engagement with women involved in fisheries. This is the Fiji Program’s first gender focused project and I am excited about the potential this presents for our Fijian women in coastal areas.”

The partnership between the three organisations aims to nurture the growth of at least three women-led businesses based on a sustainable model of mud crab harvesting and management; explore the social, environmental and economic value of Fijian women in fisheries and eventually expand this business model ambitiously across 80 more coastal communities in country.

A promising facet of the project is the fact that is aligns with existing efforts by the Fijian Government as well as women-led organisations to advance women’s income generating ability as well as create working models on natural resource management that address the country’s economic growth aspirations.

According to the Crab Company (Fiji) Limited which is the country’s leading crab business, the sector is valued at less than $0.5M FJD for the domestic market and has potential to expand further to tap into export markets however stock levels restrict expansion beyond domestic consumption.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki.

Northern fish wardens meet

A snap shot of the largest town in Fiji's second largest island, Labasa.

A snap shot of the largest town in Fiji’s second largest island, Labasa.

Words by Yashika Nand

The month of August brings us closer to an event the Wildlife Conservation Society, Department of Fisheries and Fiji Environmental Law Association have been planning for months – the hosting of a forum for community fish wardens and enforcement agencies in the Northern division of Fiji.

Supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the forum aims at strengthening dialogue and coordination of enforcement efforts on coastal fisheries. Fish wardens will be coming from all three provinces in Vanua Levu. The forum will provide an opportunity to better understand fisheries regulations and hear from the fish wardens themselves about what the real challenges they face monitoring and patrolling their community fishing grounds.

If successful, we hope that the forum serves as a valuable platform for the Department of Fisheries, Fiji Police, prosecutors and other law and enforcement agencies to both more closely together to develop tangible solutions to address illegal fishing activities in our coastal waters.

The workshop is timely as we continue to advance the effective protection of 466 existing marine protected areas within 135 traditional fishing areas in Fiji. These locally managed marine areas have varied levels of enforcement in place. There are just too few people and resources to monitor our vast seas.

Looking forward I am optimistic of the fruits (or should that be fish!) that this forum will bear. If we can work collectively, and better support our community fish wardens we can to improve enforcement around illegal fishing, by supporting community management rules, stop poaching, reducing undersized catch, and following restrictions on fishing gears. All these things will have a positive impact on community tabu areas and improve the state of our coastal fisheries resources. Well, that is what I hope for!

Returning to Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

Spend more than a few minutes on Kia Island and it is obvious that the residents enjoy their fishing. But fishing isn’t just for pleasure, it is a way of life for the communities of Yaro, Ligau and Daku who live on a speck of land no more than 3 square kilometres perched on the edge of Fiji’s Great Sea Reef.

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

While the spectacular scenery of the tall rocky cliffs of the island and the warm hospitality of the people of Kia remained the same, much had changed since my last visit in 2009. There was power every night. Sky Pacific satellite dishes crowned the roofs of houses. I no longer needed to walk surreptitiously across the schoolyard to go bathe at the single well with a resident freshwater eel now that large water tanks flanked most of the village houses.

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

The improvements in lifestyle are probably related to increased fishing income. When I first came to Kia Island in 2008, we saw more fish on the reef than I had ever seen in my life. The values of fish biomass we recorded were nearly off the charts – some of the highest figures that have been published for anywhere in the world. I doubt they are anywhere near the same today.

A few days after we began our surveys, the Kia communities announced that they were opening up their tabu area to fishing. Within four weeks, they had removed nearly 70-80% of the fish biomass, primarily targeting large trevally, unicornfish, grouper, snapper, parrotfish and emperor. Those fish that didn’t get caught, “bailed out” of the tabu area and fled to other adjacent areas of reef, as we noted from a spike in fish numbers and biomass at adjacent survey sites open to fishing.

In 2009, I had the WCS marine team return to Kia Island to look for evidence of recovery as the tabu had supposedly been put back in place. Our results, however, showed a reduction of fish numbers and sizes, suggesting that people were still fishing.

Why? Well, the locals told us that they saw boats from Labasa continuing to fish inside their tabu area – clearly people were not respecting the tabu. We also know that middlemen from seafood export companies moved onto the island, thus there was easy access to a reliable market and hard cash. Hard cash can be used to purchase more fishing gear and boats, thus leading to more fishing pressure.

While the main purpose of our visit this year was to collect some additional social survey information to inform an analysis of the overall effectiveness of management, I also wanted to make sure to present the outcomes of the tabu harvest to the communities.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

In Yaro Village in particular, there was a lot of discussion. People were genuinely concerned that the level of fishing might not be sustainable, but they feel a bit powerless to make rules to control effort. The Tui Macuata has the ultimate authority regarding when the tabu area can be opened, thus, to use a banking analogy, there is reluctance to reinstate the tabu for fear that the accrued benefits will be withdrawn by people from outside the community.

The Kia communities are caught in a governance dilemma. What are some of the possible solutions? We counselled them that they could form a fishing committee to be able to take a stronger, unified voice to Bose Vanua meetings to discuss the issues with the traditional community leaders. Because there is such a small area of land available on Kia for planting crops, the communities are nearly completely dependent on fishing for their livelihoods, and outside fishing pressure represent a real threat to their very existence.

Secondly, they can continue the excellent monitoring that they are already doing to assess whether the fish that they are catching are reproductively mature. If too many fish are taken out of the water before they are able to replenish the stock, populations will eventually fall below levels needed to support food and income needs.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Unfortunately, Kians have been hit by a double whammy. In addition to increased fishing pressure, Tropical Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc on their reef. The brilliant colours of the fringing reef bordering the island are gone – likely victim to the cyclone’s thrashing in December 2012, as evidenced by many tipped over coral plates. Instead, it is pipefish paradise as they hide in the turf algae waiting to feed on small unsuspecting invertebrates like copepods. Without a high number of “sasamaki fish” – the fish that eat the algae and clean up the reef – the corals will be unlikely to come back and the reef structure will degrade, thus reducing habitat for other fish and their prey.

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

Now is the time to act. We hope to bring back soon the outcomes of our work on periodic harvests of tabu areas to provide better guidelines of how much can be harvested from tabu areas and how often. We are also keen to partner with other NGOs, like WWF, to help the communities come up with a plan to control fishing effort and move towards sustainable extraction levels.

Measuring Fish on the Big Island

WCS Fiji Volunteer, Mosese Naleba in Kubulau District, Bua

WCS Fiji Volunteer, Mosese Naleba in Kubulau District, Bua

Words by Mosese Naleba

“Catch Per Unit Effort” (CPUE) is a fisheries tool used to estimate how fish catch and effort changes over time, and therefore how heathy fish stocks are. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is currently working with over 100 villages around the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, the Suva district, and on the island of Taveuni in Fiji to conduct CPUE monitoring. Villagers were taught how to measure fish and enter data into a logbook, to enable local fishers keep better track of their fisheries resources, and be active stewards of their i qoliqoli (traditional fishing grounds). The villagers enter the data using their local names, and then WCS scientist Waisea Nasilisili matches these up with the scientific names.

Some of the fish that is caught and recorded by communities. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Some of the fish that is caught and recorded by communities. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Through CPUE training and data collection, I got to see places that I only dreamt of seeing. These were places likes Waiqanake village in the province of Rewa, Navatu Village in Bua province, Nadogoloa, Nabukadra and my ancestral village Verevere in the province of Ra. Growing up in the mainland of Viti Levu, I always hoped one day to visit Vanua Levu (literally means “Big Island”) – so when offered the opportunity to go there with WCS, I took it.

CPUE training was conducted on the beautiful island of Navatu, with participants coming from Kubulau district and Taveuni. The atmosphere during training was relaxed, with lots of opportunities for jokes and laughter in between the intense training. It was great to see firsthand how much these villagers appreciated the training, and what types of concerns they had about their fisheries.

When the training ended, we set down together with the participants and villagers of Navatu Island for a session around the tanoa bowl. I talked with the village elders of Navatu, who told me stories of ancestral linkages, their connections to land and sea, and most importantly, the changes that were occurring all around them. The stories were the same – that there was a steady decline in their fish stocks, and it was harder to catch fish for food and to sell at local markets.

They talked about how vibrant their qoliqoli areas were in the past, from shallow lagoons to deeper reefs. One elder told me,

“before, we were knee deep with fish. The hard part was reaching down and picking them up. Now we are on our knees begging for fish.”

These words continue to reverberate within me, admittedly bring tears to my eyes when I remember my first trip to Vanua Levu. The village elders and participants acknowledged the declines in their fish populations, but felt more hopeful that as their community became more involved in monitoring and management efforts to improve fisheries within their qoliqoli areas.

Community representatives undergoing Catch Per Unit Effort training. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Community representatives undergoing Catch Per Unit Effort training. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

As I finish off my six month internship with WCS and prepare to return to Fiji National University to complete my degree in environmental science, I cannot help reflect on how much I have learnt and experienced in six short months. It has been a privilege to be part of the WCS team and I will always treasure the experiences I had and the communities I met and interacted with. I return to my studies with a much clearer and more inspired vision of where I am heading. I know now how much I want to assist my fellow Fijians treasure the beauty and bountifulness of their natural resources, that they have been blessed with. Stand by WCS – I will be back!