By Kelera Serelini-Varawa

A latest report launched by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) indicated that stocks in Fiji are under threat.

According to the report “Fiji’s Sea Cucumber Fishery – Advances in Science for improved management”, numbers of sea cucumbers in our oceans are juveniles.

The report also shows that exporters are not adhering to the legal size limit of 7.6cm as a legal size for exporting bêche-de-mer. Sandfish (dairo) which is not permitted for export are being exported. This is evident in the volumes of sea cucumber being collected by local fishers, in comparison with the numbers that are already in possession by exporters.

The report also highlighted that the use of Underwater Breathing Apparatus has resulted in an alarming number of deaths as a result of improper usage of UBA for the collection of sea cucumbers. These divers were admitted at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital decompression chamber for treatment.

“Economic analysis showed an annual cost to the national health system in treating injured divers is FJD $515, 000,” according to the report.

The same study also revealed that allowing UBA for harvesting of sea cucumbers has a negative social impact.

“Overall genetic connectivity with gene flow moves from east to west meaning that in order for Fiji to safeguard its sea cucumber fishery, sea cucumbers in the eastern islands (Lau and Lomaiviti group) needed to be sustainably harvested because they might act as source of population replenishment and gene flow for stocks in western Fiji,” it said.

The report also confirms that removal of sea cucumbers such as Dairo from reef flats does negatively impacts reef sediment.

“Since sea cucumbers eat large quantities of sediments and turning over sediments layer through daily burying, their removal can reduce the health of reef sediments and lowers the oxygen availability in reef sediments in which it could impact other reef animals,” it said.

WCS Fisheries Officer, Watisoni Lalavanua, also a contributor to the report, said Fiji’s status of sea cucumber fishery is in a perilous state, and desperately needs a major shift in management strategy in order to safeguard the fishery.

He said the recent report supported the ban in the use of UBA and it recommends for the total ban of UBA due to its impact to the society and the economy.

“Inaction in improving the status of the fishery will result in loss of biodiversity and some local species extinctions and this could lead to long-term loss of valuable livelihood resources for current and future generations of Fijians,” Watisoni added.