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

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