By Kathy Chaston Radway

Prior to Cyclone Winston, many communities in the hardest hit areas in Fiji were eating fish every day of the week. Now some are lucky to eat fish once or twice a month.

These are some of the concerning initial reports from survey teams that have visited 150 villages in the past two weeks, assessing the impacts of Winston on communities ability to meet their food and income needs from the sea.

Much of the discussion on food security following cyclones to date has focused on agriculture, as fisheries impacts are poorly understood and rarely documented. So on the request of Fiji Department of Fisheries, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network (FLMMA) and a team of NGO partners, are assessing the impact on community-based fisheries and community health.

The assessment, which will be submitted to Fisheries by the end of May, will help identify the villages most dependent on their coastal fisheries and most in need, especially in areas where the coral reefs and fisheries have been badly impacted and need time to recover.

The assessments are intended to better target recovery funds, including such programs that can supply new fishing gear, support the placement of fish aggregating devices (FADs), and establish alternative livelihood projects.

Based on the surveys, we will provide estimates of the cost of replacing and repairing fishing boats, gear and storage facilities.

The survey teams are meeting with small groups of fishermen and women as well as village headmen to gauge the cyclone’s impact on each community’s ability to catch and store fish through loss of fishing boats, gear and storage areas.

The teams are also collecting information about the main fisheries and livelihoods for men and women, main protein sources and the perceived impact of the cyclone on the marine environment. Because the communities are busy rebuilding, the surveys are targeted at groups, to avoid burdening each household with a questionnaire.

Of special note, the surveys are being supported by a host of partners, who have come together to help ensure coastal communities can fully recover from the cyclone.

The NGO partnership includes WCS, FLMMA, the Women in Fisheries Network – Fiji, the University of the South Pacific, the Coral Reef Alliance, GVI Fiji, Partners in Community Development Fiji, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.