Saturday, June 07, 2008

Macuata qoliqoli talk

from w
Fiji Times featured an article about a meet at Naduri concerning the qoliqoli areas and tabu on fishing.
Fishing for the future
KATHERINE HOWARD, WWF-Fiji Country Program
Sunday, June 08, 2008

More than 60 villagers from the four tikina of Sasa, Mali, Dreketi and Macuata converged on the chiefly village of Naduri, Macuata Province last week to plan a better future for natural resource management in their region.

A three-day workshop facilitated by the Macuata Provincial Office, WWF-Fiji Country Program (WWF) and partner organisations the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Wetlands International Oceania (WIO) was held in Naduri on May 27-29 for the traditional community leaders and managers of the Qoliqoli (fishing grounds) Cokovata.

Over 60 people, including Ratu Aisea Katonivere, paramount chief of Macuata Province, members of the Qoliqoli Cokovata management committee, fishers, farmers, fish wardens, women's group representatives, Turaga ni Koro (village headmen) from most of the 37 villages in the four tikina and other community members came together to discuss proposed changes to the existing network of tabu areas in Qoliqoli Cokovata.

The existing network of nine tabu sites was established by Macuata qoliqoli managers in 2004, with the assistance of WWF and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network (FLMMA) sites were chosen using the best traditional knowledge and information on fish breeding sites and habitats that was available at the time. Currently, only about 111.5km2 or 8% of Qoliqoli Cokovata is protected from fishing by customary tabu.

Since then, extensive scientific and socio-economic surveying has been carried out in the Qoliqoli Cokovata by WWF and its partner organisations, WCS and WIO. The results of these surveys were returned to the communities as analysis were completed, however, this workshop was the first time the results were presented to everyone at once, in a form appropriate for decision making.

Akisi Bolabola, Sustainable Livelihoods officer at WWF said, "this scientific and socio-economic information, combined with the traditional ecological knowledge of the qoliqoli managers, helped the workshop attendees to identify up to 16 proposed new tabu sites of various sizes.

"The new sites include important habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds and turtle nesting beaches."

Mangroves and seagrass beds are important nursery areas for young fish; protecting these habitats is vital to ensuring food security for the people of Fiji. Mangroves and coral reefs also help provide protection against storm and tidal damage to coastal villages.

Ms Bolabola went on to describe the next steps of the reconfiguration process. "These proposed new sites will now be discussed by each of the 37 villages in the four tikina. Amongst other things, the potential impact of any new tabu sites on daily subsistence and income will be considered.

The community's views will be fed back to the Qoliqoli Cokovata management committee and Ratu Aisea to make final decisions about which sites to protect from fishing and other harvesting."

Tabu sites, also known as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) or no-take zones, are places that are set aside from most, or all, fishing.

They are important because they provide space for fish and invertebrate populations to increase and spill over into the rest of the qoliqoli where they can be fished.

Evidence from the Pacific and around the world has shown that closing off some areas of ocean to fishing can dramatically increase the numbers of fish available for harvest in nearby fishing grounds. More fish and larger individual fish are generally found in MPAs than in fished areas; which also results in increased reproductive output from MPAs, because larger female fish produce many more eggs than smaller ones.

Ms Bolabola said, "While the selection of additional tabu sites is very exciting, this workshop was not just about marine protected areas. The attendees also discussed the connected nature of the land, the rivers and the sea; and how everything that happens on land or in the rivers affects their qoliqoli".

The community representatives discussed plans for protecting forests and replanting trees along cleared edges of rivers to reduce erosion and agricultural run off that can damage the fragile coral reef and seagrass ecosystems in the qoliqoli.

"I think the people of Macuata now have a really good idea of the concept of Ecosystem based management, and how the way land is managed in the upper catchment affects both the rivers and the qoliqoli."

Ratu Aisea said, "It's encouraging to see the holistic conservation approach that is now being taken in Macuata. We as resource owners are beginning to see the results of protecting certain parts of our qoliqoli, which has encouraged us towards nominating new important sites to improve our conservation efforts. The results will benefit all who depend on our fishing ground for food and livelihood."

Ratu Aisea unexpectedly presented a whale's tooth or tabua to the three-NGO team at the end of the workshop to thank them for their ongoing efforts to assist the traditional community managers of the qoliqoli to better manage their fisheries and other natural resources.

Ms Bolabola said, "this reconfiguration activity brought together traditional knowledge and scientific information to map out an effective network of protected areas that will safeguard food security for the people of Macuata, while protecting the internationally important Great Sea Reef ecosystem."

In 2005 the Fiji Government committed to establishing a network of MPAs in 30% of its inshore and offshore fishing areas.

The Qoliqoli Cokovata network of tabu sites is part of the growing network of locally managed marine areas in Fiji that are contributing to this goal. Many other local stakeholders including the rice, cane, timber, tourism and fish buying industries will be invited to an open community information session about the proposed changes to the current network of tabu sites, to be held in Labasa at a later date.

Anyone who is interested in attending this open community information session (date to be confirmed) to learn more about the tabu areas should contact WWF on 331 5533.

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