The Island Nation of Fiji has long depended on ocean pastures that were once filled with fish.
Today those ocean pastures are dying and depleted and in desperate need of restoration and revival.
Help is at hand!
According to the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association, 75% of the domestic fleet have ceased operation in the last five years, with most remaining in service boats only able to catch less than 50% of the amount of fish needed for their owners to just cover expenses and break even.
The catch rate in Fijian waters has fallen from 200 albacore tuna a day per boat in 2010/11 to about 15-20 today. Only five of the 35 vessels owned by members of the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association are still fishing and those five are struggling to stay in service and out of mothballs.
While the 300 islands of Fiji occupy a very small area of earth, some 7000 sq. miles/ 18,000 sq. km, the oceans that surround and sustain those islands create within the nations 200 mile exclusive economic zone a very large, 1.3 million sq. km, once productive ocean pasture.
The collapse of Fijian ocean pasture and decline of fish may be immediately and inexpensively reversed, the pastures can and must be restored and sustained.
The proven ocean pasture restoration technology and know how that will bring back the fish is very well understood. Just one of Fiji’s now mothballed fishing ships refitted and dedicated to ocean pasture stewardship is all that is needed to return the tuna and other fish to historic abundance.
For a few tens of thousands of dollars spent each year to sustainably replenish and restore Fiji’s ocean pastures scores of millions of dollars each year of fishing industry revenue will flow into Fiji’s economy. IT JUST WORKS… read how 226 million salmon instead of the 50 million expected were caught as a result of our ocean pasture restoration work in the North Pacific.
Overfishing is just one of the troubles with Fiji’s fish. By restoring Fiji’s ocean pastures fish will be sustainably returned to historic abundance. Overfishing will become nearly impossible.
Over the past decade, hundreds of additional foreign vessels (including heavily subsidised Chinese and SE Asian fishing boats) have begun fishing Fiji’s dwindling ocean pastures. The national fishing policy has been loudly criticised in the local communities for issuing excessive domestic licenses against the advice of many experts, including ocean scientists. This licensing has led to some unscrupulous ‘charter boat’ operators who buy up licenses supposedly for domestic fleets but are, in fact, 100% foreign-owned, according to Fiji’s Sun Business. One of the biggest fishing companies in Fiji, Fiji Fish, announced last year (2015) that it was giving up its fishing licenses altogether due to the lack of fish and would now focus on other sectors of the market.
The story of ocean pasture collapse in not unique to Fiji.
In 2012 alone, 265 million tonnes of tuna were caught in the Pacific Ocean, accounting for nearly 60% of the total global catch. Fleets from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China, the USA and even Europe, fished the huge percentage of the catch. The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association says the situation in the rest of the Pacific is exactly the same. The association has warned, on several occasions, that unless there is better management of this once lucrative and vital resource in the Pacific, the threat of extinction of some of the tuna species is very high, and the island nations of the Pacific stand to lose economically in a big way to say nothing of the loss of a vital local food supply.
In other parts of the South Pacific like that near Chile the same tragedy of collapse of ocean pastures is happening, there the major fish species that is threatened with extinction is the small tuna-like Jack Mackerel. Read more about the story of Who Killed Jack Mackerel via this link.
The Convenient Usual Suspects – overfishing or ?
Pacific Island governments are being told/sold by anti-fishing interests that the problem with the fishing industry is in their hands. They simply need to do something to reduce the catch or even to ban tuna fishing in some parts of the Pacific and all will be well. It is all too convenient to lay blame for the collapse of fisheries to the overfishing which surely exacerbates the fishery crisis and perhaps even lands the last blow but overfishing is not the root cause of fishery collapse. Few other than this blog are speaking out about the collapse of ocean pastures that is due to the impacts of CO2 that has been shown to be far more dramatic in diminishing and destroying ocean pastures around the world.
The role of CO2 in destroying ocean ecology is two-fold. First CO2 feeds plants on land and as there are more plants growing they cover the land and prevent dust from blowing in the wind. The dust in the wind that is disappearing is the vital source of nutrients for ocean pasture plants and plankton and the fish that they feed. The other side of CO2 is that it dissolves into the ocean and there becomes acid, that CO2 ocean acidification is killing all manner of sea life in their earliest larval stage of life.
Fishing on dying pastures.
Despite their knowledge that ocean pastures are in collapse and fish stocks on those dwindling ocean pastures are unsustainable, governments continue to issue licenses to foreign vessels. This results in useful short-term foreign exchange revenue from licensing but it sacrifices the long-term benefits of bigger better quality catches, higher market prices, and multiple benefits to the community that a healthy domestic fishing industry delivers.
Tuna has for centuries provided an important source of food for Pacific islanders. Fore decades tuna fishing has also been an important source of income and employment. For some island nations, the tuna resources within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) represented their only significant renewable resource, and was their best opportunity for economic development.
Fishery Management Needs Just A Little Help
While there is criticism of Fijian fisheries management, there have been some fishing industry measures put in place to try and safeguard the future. The Fiji Albacore Tuna Longline Fishery was the first fishery in Fiji to be awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification back in 2012. It was seen at the time as a significant step towards a sustainable future for Fiji’s fishing industry.
“This is an incredibly exciting step for the Fiji Albacore Longline Fishery to take and sets the standard for other longline tuna fisheries in the region to aspire to as the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association has now created the momentum to shift fisheries in a sustainable direction,” Seremaia Tuqiri, South Pacific Fisheries Officer for the WWF said.
Traditionally, the fisheries sector in Fiji boasts a diverse bounty of marine species. These include yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, albacore tuna, marlin, swordfish, mahimahi as well as deep water fish such snapper.
Closer to shore reef fish species like sea- bream, trevally, grouper, coral trout and rock cods are caught. In aquaculture products include prawn, seaweed, giant clam and tilapia.
Fiji’s Minister of Fisheries and Forests, Osea Naiqamu said recently,
“Proper management and continued advocacy of Fiji’s ocean fisheries resources is important for food security, income generation and employment opportunities. He added that fisheries are renewable resources, however, if not managed properly, the level of depletion would worsen at an unsustainable rate and could hasten the pace of extinction.”
“Fijians on average consume approximately 35kg per capita of fish per year. It is known to be a much higher in many fishing villages and maritime island communities, where 113kg per capita of fish is consumed each year.”
This is a step in the right direction but we hope the Minister will take the bolder, far less costly, and more immediately effective steps to begin ocean pasture stewardship programs on behalf of Fiji’s vital ocean and restore and replenish Fiji’s fish. This restoration and replenishment can multiply fish populations in just 3-5 years!
The Republic of Fiji Islands is made up of over 300 islands and atolls with a population of 800,000 people. It has an EEZ of around 1,290,000 km2, while having a land area of around 18,333 km2. The EEZ of the Republic of Fiji Islands borders five Pacific Island nations: the Republic of Vanuatu to the west, the Solomon Islands to the northwest, the Republic of Tuvalu to the north, Wallis and Futuna to the northeast, and the Kingdom of Tonga to the southeast, with around 40% of the EEZ bordering international waters. In addition, New Caledonia may also share a border through the disputed waters of Matthew and Hunter Islands. Read more about Fiji here.
I would be delighted to hear from people in Fiji and their ideas of how to begin the restoration of Fiji’s vital ocean pastures.