$0.5m to treat divers

GOVERNMENT spent more than $0.5million for the hospitalisation of injured beche-de-mer divers over the past two years.

These are divers who use underwater breathing apparatus (UBA).

The high number of deaths and injuries and low stock status of sea cucumbers has prompted the Fisheries Department in the compilation of the Fiji Sea Cucumber Management Plan to be finalised at the end of the year.

Speaking at the Northern Fisheries Forum, fisheries officer Margaret Vakalalabure said it was the first time the ministry had invested to compile a commodity management plan for inshore fisheries after being pressured by various provincial councils.

“We have been pressured by the provincial councils in terms of the number of deaths that has resulted through the use of UBA, together with the surveys that had been conducted that shows the low stock status of sea cucumbers,” Ms Vakalalabure said.

“In the financial analysis of data available over the period of 2012 to 2014, the hospitalisation of local fishers is an average of $515,000 per year.

“According to their economic cost benefit analysis, the benefits from the harvest of sea cucumbers was way less than the cost of someone being hospitalised after an accident after being exempted to use UBA.”

Ms Vakalalabure said according to data available to them, the use of UBA had a negative effect to society.

“We are concerned with the number of deaths and we have put in stringent measures in the plan by only allowing free diving and gleaning,” she said.

Meanwhile, Labasa trader Sueng Bae Lee said most of the sea cucumbers harvested through gleaning or free diving were usually undersized, thus their need for UBA.

Free diving does not involve the use of underwater breathing apparatus and is limited to certain depths.

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