Freshwater mussels

fresh water mussels (kai) is a delicacy in Fiji particularly when baked in thick coconut cream (lolo) mixed topped spring onions, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Others prefer it boiled with vegetables and served hot with lemon and chillies.

Maresalo Nataro of Nacokaika Village, Naitasiri makes a living selling kai at the Suva Municipal Market. He has been in the business since 1999.

The father of five children serves 30 to 50 people in a day when busy. He operates the business with his wife who collects kai the day before from the river in their village. On not so busy days he would store leftover kai in buckets of water to keep them alive and sells it the next day.

Mr Nataro said his produce was always fresh and he took extra care checking before he sells. He constantly throws water over the heaps of kai to keep it fresh and moist. According to him this is done every five minutes because kai needs water to survive.

He sells kai from Mondays to Saturdays and at $3, $4 and $5 a heap. A full 25kg-bag was sold for $100 .

He said the amount of kai he sold at the market depended on what his wife harvested.

“My job is to sell the kai while my wife and my children are the ones who harvest it from the river,” Mr Nataro said.

Mr Nataro said the size of kai had decreased over the years and women in the village could hardly find a good decent sized kai today. In 2012, Mr Nataro said they noticed the kai sizes were decreasing. To get bigger kai one had to go in deeper waters and this could be risky particularly with unexpected river currents. “It’s not like before when we could easily get full with only five kai — now you have to eat 10 or more to get a full belly,” Mr Nataro said.

World Wide Fund-Pacific’s conservation Francis Areki said unsustainable agricultural practices and improper water disposal were major contributors to the decline in kai. He made the comments during a kai consultation held at Ba in June. Mr Areki said kai continued to migrate upstream away from the debris. The migration was also propelled by climate change — in search for a cooler habitat.

WWF-Pacific’s Climate Change officer Dr Rusila Savou said the kai consultation was to gauge the communities’ understanding on the status of kai, local indigenous knowledge of the kai resource, and generate actions to assist with community baselines for establishing of a fresh- water protected area and enhancing sustainable harvest practices.

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