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.
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.
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!