Overfishing is a major threat globally and small island nations. Search for appropriate solutions for overfishing has begun many decades ago, says Alifereti Tawake who is the Locally Marine Managed Areas (LMMA) network council chair and Marine managed or protected areas is one such solution.
He said the Great Barrier Reef marine protected area (MPA) was amongst those that were reaping benefits such as increased fish and economic yields from the protection of its biodiversity. But its approach of being centralised and government managed would not work for developing countries like Fiji. He said this was referred to as "top-down" or science driven approach.
Setting up Tabu areas or "no-take" zones in fishing grounds in developing countries is sometimes difficult because they do not have the budget and scientific expertise. And many island countries have a high dependence on their marine resources.
"Many island communities' livelihoods and survival depend on the sea resources so "locking up" large marine areas will do more harm than good at least in the immediate term. And since communities in many countries also have local ownership and governance of their marine resources they are managed by communities," he said.
Community-based management (CBAM) will address future challenges but all members of that community including women, elders, youth and hunters should have the opportunity to decide in the planning and the action to be taken.
Furthermore, Tawake said it was important to empower communities by engaging everyone at every stage of the CBAM process because it will go a long way in sustaining marine managed or protected areas into the future.
We now have more than 300 community based managed areas in Fiji. These are areas with different management such as temporary closure, seasonal or permanent no-take zone.
For a temporary closure, the area will be closed for most of the time and only occasionally opened for special occasions; for example, to harvest fish for a feast, wedding or funeral (traditional closure).
If the community wants a seasonal closure then the area would be closed for short periods for example the banning of a certain fish species to allow breeding to occur for example the spawning period of groupers or kawakawa, donu which is from May to August or the month of October to January for snappers.
In a permanent no-take zone it could ban any removal activity and all species are protected on a permanent basis - marine (no gleaning, no netting, no spear-fishing, no fishing of any sort, is allowed), terrestrial (no farming, no cutting of trees, no taking of any trees or animal etc).
Another is having a catch and size quota which means setting a catch or size limit to fish catches.
Restriction of certain fishing gear would also be another method by banning particular fishing methods for example, the use of gill nets in an area while other less damaging fishing methods are allowed.
There have been success stories from CBAM in which certain fish or other marine species that had not been seen as far back as 50 years have returned and an example would be Navakavu in which a particular crab has returned after a few years of setting aside a tabu area.
But management of these tabu areas also have its challenges, said Jone Vave coordinator of the Northern Lau Yabula management support team, although they have seen the growth of more healthy corals and seagrass, more fish and other marine species
"Many still think that having a tabu area would take away their food source. We have many challenges such as poaching from those inside the community and outsiders. There are some community leaders who still do not understand the reason for setting up a tabu area" he said.
He said Vanuabalavu established tabu areas in 2007 after the first survey by experts from the USP Institute of Applied Science.
"Their survey report showed depletion in our marine resources, so it was recommended that we ban the use of scuba diving and use of gas cylinders. Four tabu areas were set up in Susui, Daliconi, Malaka, Namalata and Narocivo with their management plans," Vave said.
"But we found out later that all MPAs were not working, so in 2010 we had another workshop at Malaka Village and now have eight MPAs - seven in Vanuabalavu and one in Tuvuca. But we still need more training as some leaders are not very receptive because they do not understand the reason for having tabu ."
Since then, they are now seeing abundance of sea grass in their MPAs, increase and healthy coral coverage and fish abundance. And funding from Global Environment Fund to implement their work has really helped in the process.
In their struggles to bring about prosperity to their islands, they are now rearing giant clams, trochus, the inclusion of mangrove areas in their tabu areas and protection of turtle nesting sites.
The island of Susui is now being visited by yachts while Blue Lagoon Historical and Cultural Cruise bring in visitors to Vanuabalavu's pristine waters and culture. These trips have assisted in the education of their children and other community needs but for them there is still more light at the end of the tunnel from their conservation efforts.