Over the course of two days in mid-August over 50 traditional leaders, fishermen, community fish wardens, members of the fishing and aquaculture industry and government agency representatives gathered in Labasa for Fiji’s first divisional fisheries forum. The objective of the forum for the Northern Division provided an opportunity to learn about the latest research and long-term studies on inshore fisheries, and for dialogue on the challenges to achieving sustainable development and management in the region’s fisheries sector.

The forum focused on fisheries legislation, management tools, bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fisheries, aquaculture, endangered and threatened species, inshore coral reef fisheries and marine enforcement.
Given the geographic spread of the region, the forum provided an opportunity to update stakeholders on new fisheries projects and created awareness on the roles and responsibilities of different Government agencies like the Department of Fisheries, Police Force and the respective Provincial Offices.

A hot topic of discussion was the state of Fiji’s bêche-de-mer fisheries. Senior Department of Fisheries Officer Margaret Tabunakawai stated that inventories carried out in recent years showed that the number of sea cucumbers have severely declined in most sites around the country. This has prompted the Department to propose regulations that would ensure the long term viability of the industry, which would mean that companies exporting sea cucumbers would have to pay for licences and other fees, and will have to abide by certain licensing conditions.

It was clear from the data presented, that as other divisions in Fiji have experienced declines in fish stocks that the country is looking north to provide for Fiji’s fish needs. The Northern Division supplies approximately FJD 30M worth of seafood to domestic and international markets annually. Fish contributes 33 percent of Fiji’s protein consumption. It is imperative that the right type of management is in place to ensure there will still be fish in Fiji’s future.

By Dwain Qalovaki