ACCORDING to a fish spawning aggregate count carried out at the Naiqoro passage in Kadavu, kawakawa numbers have improved from 45 recorded in 2005 to more than 500 in 2011.
Conservation work throughout the passage has proven that the country can save its target apex reef fish species.
Ministry of Fisheries principal fisheries officer Aisake Batibasaga says according to research carried out on the marine protected area in the passage the stock of kawakawa, or rock cod, has improved over the years.
Responding to questions sent to the department regarding the conservation of the fish in the North, Mr Batibasaga said the research was carried out by the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA) in collaboration with the Research Division of the Fisheries Department.
"This work was to begin a new collaborative phase in recognition of concerns for spawning aggregations in Fiji that arose during earlier work including the need for a better understanding of aggregation dynamics," he said.
"Earlier interviews conducted in fishing communities around Fiji had revealed there was a decline in fish catch for both exploited and unexploited spawning aggregations in many locations.
"The purpose of the Kadavu work was to document in detail the best known, and only protected, aggregation site in Fiji thereby to provide a baseline for future comparisons and to understand the major species and their temporal and spatial movements in relation to reproduction."
Mr Batibasaga said apex reef fish species such as the kawakawa, donu and the varivoce (humphead wrasse: Cheilinus undulatus) have recovered in the passage.
"This was possible through management action undertaken through protection and enforcement.
"Since Naiqoro Passage is one of the top ranked dive site in the world today — it is all the more urgent and incumbent upon us to protect this site and enforce the management rules in place. Rule number one is no fishing and only dive tourism allowed in marine protected areas.
"When SCRFA and communities started the spawning aggregation count at Naiqoro from 2005, there were only about 45 kawakawa."
Mr Batibasaga said further studies in 2011 from July to August showed there were more than 500 kawakawa turning up to spawn at that time of year.
"This is a huge plus and milestone achievement for fisheries management and species protection biodiversity conservation for Fiji as we can now establish the spawning period of different fish species."