Macuata Province trials a method to improve fisheries management in their fishing grounds

Macuata Province trials a method to improve fisheries management in their fishing grounds

By: Kelera Serelini

Traditional leaders need to be passionate about conservation and address issues concerning the protection of their natural resources said Macuata high chief, Ratu Williame Katonivere.

Macuata Province has one of the largest customary fishing grounds in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island.

The Province, under the traditional fishing grounds of Macuata Qoliqoli Cokovata which encompasses four districts of Dreketi, Macuata, Sasa and Mali, has custodial ownership for a section of the Great Sea Reef, the second longest reef in the world.

“At the traditional leadership level one has to be aware of the issues that would one day affect food sources for our people,” Ratu Williame said during the recent Fisheries Forum attended by representatives from the fishing industry.

Tui Macuata, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere. Credit:WCS

Tui Macuata, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere (far right) during the Fisheries Forum. Credit:WCS

“I have read government policies and our Millennium Development Goals and we’re informed that there is a decrease in fish stocks and as a leader, I have to worry about this.” He continued on to say Chiefs need to participate in fora like this as they are the one that help enforce fisheries laws to their people.

We need to help the Ministry of Fisheries to put a structure in place to ensure that our community efforts are recognised and every chief is aware of all the necessary information to effectively manage their resources for the future.”

The Province of Macuata is currently trialling a method to improve fisheries management. They are making it a requirement that all local and commercial fishers operating in the province provide their catch data to the Ministry of Fisheries.

Ratu Williame also stated “I’m also collating data from within my province so that I’m more aware of the resources we have and what we need to protect. I want to take a similar approach with our forest resources. Our people need to be aware that these timbers would be more valuable if they are left alone for our future generation.”

He added, “like the people of Bua, we also share the vision to protect our natural resources and I will use my traditional role to ensure that our efforts are recognised and our future generation also share in the richness of our resources in years to come.

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

Dying for Fiji’s Sea Cucumbers

by Mongabay.org’s Special Reporting Initiative Fellow Amy West

Commercial divers operating out of Vuya District, Bua Province, with a prickly redfish and giant clam.

Commercial divers operating out of Vuya District, Bua Province, with a prickly redfish and giant clam.

Redfish, Greenfish, Blackfish.
Pinkfish, Curryfish, Lollyfish.

They sound like Dr. Seuss characters and certainly look like they should be. Yet these sausage-shaped, rubbery animals stippled in fleshy bumps are not fish at all, but an invertebrate in the group that includes sea stars, sea urchins and sand dollars. Sea cucumbers, referred to as “bêche-de-mer” or “trepang” when sold as dried food, are largely motionless creatures, which is why divers scoop hundreds of them up daily to export to Asia. A single high value individual in Fiji can fetch about $80 US, notes one report.

Sea cucumbers are not a new food craze; the Chinese have eaten them at least since the 1600s and sought this delicacy from Fiji since the early 1800s. Today, the increasing market demand and the push to dive deeper for these invertebrates and start new fisheries in other countries have sent stocks declining worldwide. Some have disappeared locally in Pacific Island nations, and in Fiji, divers are actually dying for them.

Sea cucumbers are often found just offshore, in sea grass beds, on the sandy seafloor, or wedged within reefs. Their slow nature and proximity to shore encouraged an easy harvest, particularly without a specific management plan or an enforced licensing system in Fiji. They’ve been taken before they can mature, or thinned to such low densities that detecting the chemical cues to spawn may not occur, making reproduction and recovery unlikely in many areas. Pacific island countries such as Samoa that declared a moratorium on bêche-de-mer exports have seen no recovery for some species. In fact, moratoriums in other countries have placed the burden on Fiji, which harvests 27 sea cucumber species and has seen an increase in export companies. Remote areas or deeper waters, where species such as amberfish or tigerfish would be naturally protected by depth, are now also targets. To reach them, fishermen deploy sea cucumber bombs (heavy lines with hooks). They have also increased their use of underwater breathing apparatus (UBA), which is normally banned, but is used illegally or exempted in many cases by the Fijian government.

To meet the costs of dive gear that is often lent by middlemen and the pressure of quotas, the harvesters may extend their time underwater, disregarding dive protocol, which can lead to death or paralysis from decompression sickness. The Fiji Times reported in April of 2013, “over the past eight years, 18 villagers from Naviti died from the use of UBAs while more than 12 developed partial paralysis.” Household interviews conducted on some of Fiji’s islands also confirmed deaths and injuries from SCUBA diving for bêche-de-mer. Numerous local newspaper articles document this problem, and it’s likely many more accidents go unreported, particularly in the outer islands.

Read more on Mongabay.org here: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0623-sri-west-fiji-sea-cucumbers.html

Notes from the field: periodic harvests

I thought I’d be tweeting and blogging away from the field – but alas, since Digicel installed a tower in Kubulau, Vodafone signal is but a figment of my imagination. So I am cut off from all forms of communication with the outside world – six days in, it feels like a weight has been lifted.

After 18 long months of slogging it in the office and pitching proposals non-stop to donors, we are finally back in the field for a new project. During the past few years we have been collecting information about the reefs to provide recommendations about where to set up no-fishing zones (or marine protected areas – MPAs) and monitoring their effectiveness over time. This trip is different – we have asked the village of Kiobo in Kubulau District to open their MPA to see what happens. “What!” the purists would yell, “Open an MPA? Are you crazy?” But the simple fact is that rural communities in Fiji routinely open their MPAs to provide food for social functions. This practice comes from a cultural legacy throughout Melanesia of creating short-term, no-fishing zones specifically so that they would be able to have a great harvest for a social event and redistribute the food as a show of wealth and status. Thus, even though most communities within the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network say that they want to have fish for the future, they also very much want to have fish for the present.

More and more frequently, there are expectations that the MPAs can provide a source of income whenever the community needs money to pay school fees, church fees, provincial levies, etc. This is leading to more intense and more frequent harvests from MPAs, and the fish just don’t stand a chance. Here is where we come in – our current project is evaluating how much you can extract from an MPA and still have sustainable fisheries for the future. We recognise that the MPAs in Fiji work best where cultural practice is strong – and if cultural practice demands occasionally opening an MPA, then we need to be able to offer some better guidelines about how much can be harvested besides just “don’t take all the biggest fish.”

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In the field with us this time is Jordan Goetze, a PhD student from University of Western Australia, whom I’ve recruited to look at the ecological impacts of harvesting MPAs for his doctoral research. On this trip, he is testing out a range of survey methods to see which ones best document the impact of a week-long harvest from the Kiobo MPA. Our WCS staff are collecting our standard underwater visual census data, which he will compare with before and after harvest surveys of the reefs using diver-operated video and baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs). The diver-operated video information is certainly more efficient to collect than our laborious fish and benthic counts, while the BRUVs potentially allow us to collect a better record of predatory fish that are often skiddish of SCUBA divers. At the same time, we have sent out WCS staff and a Masters student from the University of the South Pacific to conduct household interviews to find out what the local people are expecting from the harvest in terms of food and monetary benefits, and then we will resurvey them after the event to see how these expectations were met.

Conducting fieldwork in remote Fiji is always challenging. Today we are stuck in the village as the fuel hose for our dive compressor became shredded, thus preventing us from filling our dive tanks. Waisea and Akuila have gone to Savusavu in search of a replacement. The winds have been up, causing rather treacherous conditions mooring at sites. Under pressure to complete 4 dives a day, we often find ourselves returning to the village for a low tide swap of empty for full tanks, which must be lugged across hundreds of meters of intertidal seagrass and algal beds. And there is no rest for the weary in the evening – data must be entered, kava drunk, and special efforts made to conduct awareness presentations in the surrounding villages so they understand what they stand to gain from the information collected from these surveys. Full support of the local communities is crucial for this project to succeed, so it is worth the extra effort to haul our generator, projector and white sheet around to the various villages by boat, often in the dark, for evening presentations to ensure that everyone knows what is happening.

What will we find when the MPA is opened? Unfortunately, it looks as though the local reports of emboldened poachers encroaching on inshore fishing grounds may be true. We certainly did not see overly abundant fish life in the MPA, and invertebrates were few and far between. Yet, hopefully the men and women of Kiobo village will still be able to pull in a sizeable catch, which can provide them a modicum of income while allowing us to gather a piece of the puzzle to evaluate thresholds of impact. Keep your coconut wireless tuned for the results . . . moce mada. Stacy

Sea cucumber harvest provides church roof

Holothuria scabra collected in Natuvu village

On the 24th September 2012 the communities of Natuvu village in Wailevu district started harvesting sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra, or dairo in Fijian) from the shallow waters outside their marine protected area. Sea cucumbers are being cultured in Natuvu village through a joint project with Fiji Department of Fisheries, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and James Cook University. The dried animals fetch a high price for sale in Asian markets – up to $100 per kilo. Around 1,200 of the valuable animals were collected on the first day of the harvest and 1,000 individuals on the second day. We are waiting to hear the final catch figures for the harvest from the communities.

During the harvest I saw first-hand the long drying process to prepare the catch for sale. First the communities cooked the dairo then buried them in sand for 24 hours. After this, they cleaned them and cooked again for 10 minutes and then dried the cooked animals using dryers. Finally, the sea cucumbers are cooked again for 15-20 minutes and then sun dried until they are sold.

It was very encouraging to see the community come together as the women of the village cleaned the dairo while all the men helped out in the cooking, cleaning and drying. Harvesting will continue until enough money is collected from selling sea cucumbers to purchase new roofing material for their village church.

Catch information collected from this harvest will contribute to a study by the University of Georgia in the US. In August, WCS Fiji staff assisted Professor Mark Hay and his team to carry out surveys inside and outside the marine protected area owned by Natuvu village, for example gathering seabed sediment samples and assessing the density of sea cucumbers before the planned harvest. These data are now being analysed by Professor Hay, before he returns to Natuvu for a post-harvest survey. The research hopes to answer questions about the effects of large-scale harvests of sea cucumbers on ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling.