Report calls for changes to the management of Fiji’s marine resources
This is the critical message highlighted in the newly released WWF-Pacific scientific report on the assessment of the spawning potential of commercially targeted reef fish from iQoliqoli Cokovata in Macuata.
Titled “Length-based assessment of the spawning potential of reef fish from iQoliqoli Cokovata Macuata: A Case Study from Fiji” the report is a sample reflection of what is happening in the country’s fisheries. The scientific report is part of the Sustainable Seafood Project which is an innovative partnership between WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Pacific, Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand Institute and the New Zealand Aid Programme. The primary aim of this project is securing food, fisheries and a sustainable seafood future in Fiji.
The study, which was led by Dr Jeremy Prince of Biospherics Pty Ltd, describes a newly developed technique that compares the size of fish in a population, to the size at which they start breeding (the size of maturity) to estimate the population’s capacity to reproduce (called spawning in fish), as well as a relative measure of how heavily the population is being fished.
Results from the study show that target species are being heavily fished and are already spawning at levels below that needed to stabilize their populations and that without improved management to increase the spawning potential of these species, they are headed towards extreme depletion and eventual local extinction.
The metric of reproduction assessed is called spawning potential (SPR) and is based on the concept that without fishing a fish population can complete 100% of its natural potential for spawning, but that fishing reduces a population’s SPR, because on average fish get caught before completing their natural life span. For fisheries, if populations can achieve at least 20 per cent of their natural spawning potential, they can sustain themselves. Less than that and a fishery will decline.
WWF-Pacific’s Coastal Fisheries Officer, Mr Laitia Tamata said the technique described in the report is one that is easily adapted at community level.
“We were able to train our community monitors on how to use local data on the size and maturity of fish caught, along with existing biological information, to estimate whether local fish populations are sufficiently reproducing to replenish themselves,” he said.
“The methodology is a bottom-up, low cost approach that satisfies the fisherfolk’s curiosity of what is happening within their fishing boundaries. ”
The SPR report also goes further to recommend the need to trial new minimum size limits for reef fishes as a core management recommendation which Mr Tamata adds “is the spring board for reforming and properly implementing a set size system that covers all the main commercially targeted species Fiji wide”.
The results in the report were analysed from data collected in Macuata from October 2014 to May 2016, where a team of 12 community members measured 5,226 fish, from 33 reefs across the iQoliqoli of the districts of Mali, Sasa, Dreketi and Macuata.
An analysis of the data was presented to the communities that resulted in the complete ban on the harvest of Kasala (Camouflage Grouper) from within the iQoliqoli Cokovata Macuata fisheries. The ban is from January – December 2017.