Kawakawa champion

LOCAL surfing and outrigger canoe racing icon Colin Philp fondly recalls his spearfishing trips as a youth. One of the fish he sought most of was the kawakawa, which was in abundance back then.

“When we went diving we saw that they kept still and most times they were like sitting targets,” he said. “I love that fish because it is a nice eating fish and my favourite is having it steamed.”

But today, his favourite fish is disappearing across Fiji, and Philp is championing the 4FJ campaign to boost kawakawa and its cousin, donu, both members of the grouper species of fish that have proved too easy to catch during their peak breeding months, June through September. During those times, these fish all gather in reef channels, and have become heavily overfished.

The 4FJ campaign is asking people from all walks of life in Fiji to forego these fish breed, June through September, and replenish Fiji’s reefs. That way people can eat bigger and more fish the rest of the year.

Philp, the manager for Leleuvia Island Resort, has committed to ensure the resort will not serve kawakawa and donu from June through September, in addition to taking the pledge personally.

Philp is not new to taking action to protecting island culture. He is a founding member of the Fiji Island Voyaging Society and was instrumental in the establishment of the Fiji Surfing and Fiji Outrigger Canoe Racing Association. He has also represented Fiji in yachting and outrigger canoeing in seven South Pacific Games and five World Championships. The highlight of his career was at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Philp said he encouraged everyone to come out and support the campaign, to show the large number of caring people who wanted to bring about change for Fiji.

“Human nature is that we just do it and don’t worry about the consequences. But these fish are disappearing. So it’s important for chiefs and leaders to support it and take part in this campaign. We all need to support the campaign because we need the numbers and the community will see that it is a wider group. And we need to support our young people not only now but also in the future,” he said.

Leleuvia resort has already made marine conservation a key element of its business plan, setting aside the reef around the island as a tabu area. The hotel also patrols the waters around the resort to deter poachers, which is a common problem in Fiji.

“Our pledging to join the 4FJ movement is in line with what we are doing at Leleuvia,” Philp said.

Want more proof?

“We also have a transfer boat called the kawakawa and two of our bure are named after the kawakawa and donu,” he said. “We chose those names from fish that need protection.”

To join Philp and Leleuvia in making the 4FJ pledge, just text your (1) name, (2) village/town, and (3) “I pledge” to 7189537. Digicel users can also text it free to 4679.

* Alumeci Nakeke is with SeaWeb.