Tuwai joins campaign

Renowned for his impressive footwork, tackling and uncanny ability to offload during contact, Fiji 7s rugby player Jerry Tuwai knows a thing or two about the sport. As the son of a fisherman from Buca in Cakaudrove, he also knows a bit about the state of fishing in Fiji.

That’s why the rugby star has committed to being the newest champion for the 4FJ campaign, which aims to revive the rapidly declining populations of kawakawa and donu in Fiji by reducing fishing during their peak breeding season.

“We should make a combined effort to let everyone know about what is happening to these fish,” said Tuwai, who, along with his wife and daughter, made the 4FJ pledge not to eat kawakawa and donu during their peak breeding months from June to September.

The goal is to ensure the fish breed each year so Fiji fishermen can catch more the rest of the year.

More than 11,000 people have made the pledge since the campaign was launched in 2014. Buoyed by the public support, the Fiji Government is planning to formally ban the fishing and sale of kawakawa and donu from June through September, starting in 2018.

The challenge for managing kawakawa and donu, commonly called grouper, is that they are particularly vulnerable because they gather predictably each year in the same spots to breed. Those sites are commonly fished heavily, leaving few fish behind to restock Fiji’s reefs.

Of the known breeding sites in Fiji, 80 per cent are declining or gone, according to Government. One study showed a 70 per cent decline in fish landings over 30 years as the sites declined.

Despite the decline, many people continue to buy and sell the fish.

Tuwai said he believed part of the problem was that people were being “misled” by the common notion that the ocean could not run out of fish.

Tuwai accompanied his dad on fishing trips while growing up in his village of Buca. He learned first-hand how important fish was to families in rural areas, who depend on it for food and income.

Tuwai has seen his father struggle with fishing as stocks declined, particularly when the family moved to Suva where overfishing is most advanced.

Today, fishermen across the country are still struggling as the numbers decline, taking a longer time to catch less fish, and spending more time and money to go further to catch them.

“People are misled because they do not understand what is happening. So some are still catching them during breeding because they don’t know the consequences of their actions,” he said.

“Everyone should be enlightened on the status of our fisheries.

“There will come a time when we will be gone, and we have to think of our children because we will not live forever. We cannot lose these fish.”

* Alumeci Nakeke is a program associate at cChange.

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