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  • Writer's pictureB.M. Allsopp

Fiji fishing: the one that got away?

Fijians favour fish

How much fresh fish do you eat in a year? I know I don't eat nearly as much as coastal Fijians. The most recent survey I can find was conducted in four coastal villages on different islands. It revealed that indigenous Fijians eat on average 74 kilos of fresh fish, 9.5 kilos of sea invertebrates and 2.4 kilos of canned fish per year. Seafood consumption in urban and inland areas, where people must buy their fish, is known to be much less. (Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)

Suva fish market, Fiji
Suva fish market, Fiji

This diet nourishes Fijians well but also means their health is very dependent on the supply of fish remaining steady. What's more, in lean times following natural disasters like cyclones and floods, which reduce food supplies from crops, reliance on sea food is even higher.

Fish stocks under threat

Coastal fisheries are over-fished and stocks have declined in many places. Clan leaders are concerned and often have responded by restricting fishing to allow stocks to recover. Such a marine reserve is the setting for Death on Paradise Island, my first Fiji Islands Mystery. The government has installed fish aggregating devices (FAD) outside barrier reefs to encourage fishers to venture further from shore to where stocks, especially of large fish like tuna, are more abundant. The Fiji government also owns PAFCO, a processing plant supplying premium tuna loins to Bumble Bee Foods in California and canning the offcuts for the local market.

Food vs Income

Longline fishing vessels in Suva Harbour
Longline fishing vessels in Suva Harbour Source:WWF

Fishing, along with tourism and sugar, is one of Fiji's top three export earners, so there's an unavoidable conflict between this island nation's food security and need for income. However, Fiji's income from fishing should be much higher than it is. Only a minority of the income earned from fish (mainly tuna) caught in Fiji's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.3 million sq. km benefits Fiji. This is because most tuna longlining vessels licensed to fish in the EEZ are registered to other countries and do not offload their catch in Fiji. The only economic benefit Fiji gets is the vessel's annual license fees.

Another threat to Fiji's food security and export income derives from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) that does not comply with regional or global fisheries conservation and management obligations. Fiji’s own tuna fleet has been certi­fied sustainable under the Marine Stewardship Council certification.

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