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Fish with a conscience

Alumeci Nakeke
Monday, November 13, 2017

Ateca Damudamu of Nagigi Village remembers as a child watching her grandmother tuck her net under her arm and tie her coconut fishing basket to her waist then following her down to the shore. The fishing basket would sway at the back of her grandmother's hips as she followed her down the path.

At the shore, her grandmother would dip her net maybe two times around rocky areas, and they would be on their way home with plenty of fish to feed the family.

That's a proper Fijian childhood memory.

Problem is, today, it's mostly just a story people Ateca's age, now 45, tell. Today, they can no longer dip their nets so close to shore and catch fish like they once did.

Handline fishing is also disappointing for villagers because, most times, they can't catch enough to feed their families, she said. Even looking for shellfish as a substitute, when there isn't enough fish, is sometimes a waste of time because they cannot even find enough for dinner.

Ateca is sharing her story as part of the Set Size campaign, an initiative led by the Ministry of Fisheries to revive Fiji's declining fishing grounds. All across the country, fishermen are having a harder and harder time meeting their needs from the sea. The Set Size campaign is helping share their stories from all over Fiji to help ensure we understand how serious the problem is and we start taking actions to fix it.

Ateca, like most of her peers in the village, has been fishing ever since she left school.

"In those days, we would ride on the bilibili and go fishing. We would catch kabatia, somititi, labe kula, karakarawa, labe loa and more. One of the fish that we always like to catch was kawakawa. They were very easy to catch because they are not choosy and would bite any type of bait," she said.

Today, if fishermen from her village catch those fish at all, the sizes are also getting smaller and smaller.

"We used to have a special rock in Navava, which is our biggest reef which we caught kake and kabatia from. But it has changed over the years. In the past three years, I've noticed that what we used to catch has dropped in sizes. They are really small now," she said.

Ateca believes the decline in the fishing grounds is because of the new fishing gear people are using that leave nothing behind for tomorrow.

She said one reason fishermen had resorted to fishing at night now was that it was getting too hard to catch fish during the day.

"During our fishing trips, I would bring up these issues. We cannot depend on these fishing to meet our needs, not like before.

"Most times we have to look again for shellfish or look for sea grapes because we caught nothing although we spend so much time out there," she said.

Ateca said there was a big difference in the way people used their qoliqoli in the past. Back then, they only took what they needed, and left some for tomorrow.

"I believe that our people before us looked after our qoliqoli but we now take out so much from our reefs that we don't leave any behind. My husband has a motto: 'Just take what we need and just leave the rest'.

"I plead with those of us who use the ocean as a livelihood that we think of others like my grandchildren's children who will follow us. Let's not be greedy and think only of ourselves," she said.

* Alumeci Nakeke is the communications officer at cChange. Views expressed are not of this newspaper.

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