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Managing fish stocks

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marine resources are in grave danger if illegal fishing and overfishing continue.

While these may be of concern for environmentalists, the fisheries department in Fiji has set standard sizes of fish stock that can be caught.

Despite this, evidence of undersized fish being sold on the roadside or fishing nets set just a few metres away from the seawalls like the one along Nasese in Suva indicate that undersized fishing is a threat to the livelihood of fish stocks.

Department of Environment director Epeli Nasome believes the objective of having marine protected areas was to prevent illegal or overfishing.

He said undersized fishing is killing fish that have not matured or have not reached their full grown size.

"The fisheries department has developed standard sizes or measurements for the various species of Fiji's fish stock," he said.

"It would be these standard measurements that the officers of the fisheries department would use when they periodically move around the country monitoring all or most fish catches.

"I also understand the fisheries department has trained rangers in remote areas to monitor fishing.

"These rangers would also be aware of the standard measurements. Only subsistence fishing is allowed. Any fish caught must be larger than the illegal sizes."

Mr Nasome said the Fisheries Act may have been reviewed to ensure sustainable fishing practices.

He said it would be appropriate for the fisheries department to be responsible for the sustainability of fisheries.

Mr Nasome said the establishment of MPAs was a major approach to maintaining a healthy fish stock and marine resources.

"They are mandated to manage the utilisation of all Fiji's fish stock.

"It is important for people to realise the importance of sustaining fish stocks because this ensures ongoing supply of fish stock in the future, for their future generations and for their own use during their lifetime.

"I believe people are still catching undersized fish for various reasons.

"These people may not be aware of the rules. More awareness campaigns need to be conducted.

"These people have found it difficult to travel further out from their fishing areas so they continue to catch undersized fish and not larger fish available in other areas."

He said only allowing subsistence fishing for daily needs of the communities would be another approach to sustaining our marine wealth.

Mr Nasome said strengthening the monitoring responsibilities of the fisheries department would also help with managing Fiji's fish stock and marine life.

"This means increasing manpower, training fish wardens and more effective monitoring plans with existing resources.

"The department of environment has legislations that require sustainable utilisation of marine resources.

"These are the Environment Management Act 2005 and the Endangered and Protected Species Act.

"However, the department of environment has liaised closely with the fisheries department to ensure the sustainability of this particular resource through its own policies including the Fisheries Act and Regulations."

He said this would ensure the Department of Environment would not take away from the line ministries their powers to manage the use of their respective natural resources.

The need to sustain Fiji's marine stock sees a need for more areas or zones protected against over and illegal fishing. This is where MPAs come in.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans team leader Nilesh Goundar said marine reserves are highly protected areas off limits to all extractive and destructive uses.

He said these areas were the most powerful tools available for the conservation of ocean wildlife and would benefit fisheries by promoting recovery and reproduction of exploited species.

"Recent decades have seen a massive increase in the global fishing effort and drastic declines in global fishing stocks, significantly impacting on marine diversity," he said.

"The report, State of the World's Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2006 states that in 12 out of 16 regions evaluated, at least 75 per cent of stocks are already fully or overexploited.

"Populations of top predators are disappearing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that many populations have been reduced by 90 per cent since 1950.

"The depletion of these species coupled with the destruction of deep sea habitats and associated habitat complexity has been shown to cause shifts in ocean ecosystems."

Mr Goundar said marine reserves provide the crucial underpinning for the implementation of effective management of the sea.

He said they have important benefits to scientific understanding of this environment.

Mr Goundar said MPAs provide controlled areas for all direct human disturbances and more natural baselines for the measurement of impacts.

This enables scientists to obtain data less confounded by human activities.

"These human activities include separating natural variation from fishing effects and to acquire a greater understanding of the intrinsic processes of subject ecosystems.

"Designation of an area as a marine reserve does not preclude the need to define adequate management strategies applicable to areas falling outside of them.

"The goal is to achieve sustainable use of marine resources outside the marine reserves network. This means that activities must conform to principles of sustainability causing no degradation of ecosystems structure and function and meet the needs of both current and future generations."

He said marine reserves are a complement to fisheries management measures as reduction in fishing efforts and capacity, prevention of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and development of non-destructive fishing methods.

Mr Goundar said these reserves provide the bedrock of the ecosystem approach.

He said in this context, marine reserves yield a range of benefits to fisheries management that flow directly from their primary role in the protection of marine ecosystems.