FISHING conducted in the traditional fishing grounds of the Korolevu-i-wai district will be closely monitored in 2013.
Jowasa Kuribola, the chairman of the district's Environment Committee, said that the committee had noted an increase in illegal fishing practices which needs to be addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of marine resources for future generations.
"We have noted some people still using SCUBA and duva to fish in our qoliqoli," Mr. Kuribola said.
The use of duva or other poisons and underwater breathing apparatus for fishing is illegal under Fiji's fisheries laws and regulations unless the fisher is licensed to do so by the Fisheries Department; these national laws can help minimize destructive fishing practices and overfishing.
"We also see people are still taking turtles, catching fish to sell, and taking paying guests out to fish in our qoliqoli though they do not have the fishing permits and licenses required by law to do so," he said.
To address illegal fishing, the district hosted a 3-day training in May 2012 where the Dept. of Fisheries trained over 60 honorary fish wardens from Korolevu-i-wai and neighboring districts to help enforce Fiji fisheries laws.
"We intend for the fish wardens to work within our community and alongside the Fisheries Department and Police to curb illegal fishing in our qoliqoli this year," Mr. Kuribola said.
Fish wardens will receive educational materials to carry out an awareness campaign about Fiji's Fisheries laws along with the tools and equipment they need to detect and document illegal fishing thanks to a grant award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in the United States and the support of local co-management practitioners.
To assist fishers in getting the permits and licenses they require by law, the district has started a formal application process by which people and businesses requiring the consent of the qoliqoli owners for a fishing permit can apply. The application process is currently open for 2013 until January 22, though this deadline might be extended due to challenges posed by cyclone Evan.
"We intend to review all the applications before making any decisions on the granting of consent for permits," said Laisiasa Waqavatu, the Mata ni Tikina for Korolevu-i-wai.
"Once all applications have been considered, we will decide what consent for permits will be issued, and what conditions, if any, will be applicable."
By attempting to better regulate non-subsistence uses of the qoliqoli and curb illegal fishing practices, villagers hope to improve the success of fisheries management efforts that they have been undertaking for over a decade now including the establishment of four permanent no-take marine protected areas, as well as some temporary tabu areas.
Ensuring there are fish for the future is everyone's responsibility.
"We must all do our part to look after marine resources for the benefit of our Vanua and country," said Mr. Waqavatu, "and this starts with responsible fishing."
nVictor Bonito is a coral reef ecologist and founder of Reef Explorer, a Fiji-based research and development company established to support community-based marine conservation effort in Fiji. Active in coral reef research and conservation efforts around the world for 14-years, Victor has a broad knowledge of coral reef ecosystems and a wealth of experience working with a spectrum of stakeholders on resource management issues.