FHTA, 20 July 2023 – Protecting our marine life starts with each of us.
Conservationist Enric Sala remarked that “the ocean is like a checking account where everybody withdraws but nobody makes a deposit. This is what’s happening because of overfishing.”
Except perhaps by way of a deposit – all we seem to be good at is tossing our rubbish into the ocean because out of sight is out of mind.
That’s the reason we’re getting behind in creating more awareness and education about the benefits of banning the fishing of certain fish species in Fiji. Something that anyone living and working in a Pacific Island Country should be practising and supportive of.
This prioritises sustainable practices and is joining in a fight that is still not big enough, to protect Fiji’s fragile ecosystems, while protecting and preserving critical marine life.
If you weren’t aware, there is a current ban on grouper fishing, which extends until the end of September, and this forms a key component of the overall efforts for seasonal and longer-term banning of certain fish specifies.
This ban is part of the broader 4FJ Fish Smart campaign which is spearheaded by the Ministry of Fisheries and cChange Pacific, aiming to raise awareness about responsible fishing practices and the importance of safeguarding Fiji’s marine resources for future generations.
cChange is a non-profit organisation working to improve lives through strategic communications and behavioural change initiatives and collaborates with relevant stakeholders (like the tourism industry) to provide vital information on coastal fisheries.
Their private sector outreach initiatives are crucial for the engagement and education of our industry on sustainable fishing practices and the benefits of banning certain fish species. But banning the fishing of certain fish species goes beyond just the current grouper ban. 4FJ Fish Smart aims to broaden its efforts and shed light on the importance of protecting other fish species in Fiji’s waters.
The fishing industry is vital to Fiji’s economy, not just to communities that depend on the ocean, but also on export quotas, domestic consumption and even tourism. It plays a vital role in the overall growth and development of the country, and it is underestimated just how much the sector provides employment and income opportunities, access to food sources and sustainable livelihoods. Fishing must therefore be properly managed, so that it assists in maintaining the critical balance needed in the ecosystem biodiversity.
Tourism interests in maintaining sustainable fish stocks go beyond the ability to access a variety of seafood. It also includes activities and experiences that visitors travel across the world for – to enjoy cleaner oceans, experience nature and revel in the magical beauty of islands surrounded by magnificent beaches.
From the love of fishing and diving to the love of seafood, Fiji has a range of enviable great spots around the country especially near the great reef systems that showcase our beautiful reefs teeming with abundant marine life from soft corals to schools of sharks.
These reef ecosystems act as breeding grounds for many large billfish (marlin) species, sharks, tuna, giant trevally, mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) and snapper, due to it having many channels leading from extremely deep water into shallow lagoons.
However, unsustainable and indiscriminate fishing practices can deplete fish populations and degrade marine ecosystems. Systems that rely on a delicate balance of having a variety of different marine species interacting as part of larger, interconnected communities that move through oceans, seasons, currents and feeding needs.
Implementing fishing rules and regulations, along with fundamental educational programs, ensures that we are aware as a nation, that we must collectively protect fish species on a seasonal basis and do all possible to maintain a healthy aquatic environment.
Without these often-ignored regulations, certain fish species become vulnerable to overfishing, pushing them toward extinction and leaving gaps in those finely balanced marine ecosystems that eventually lead to more complicated challenges down the line.
Uncontrolled fishing can disrupt the balance of marine ecosystems, impacting not only the targeted species but also their interconnected food webs. If you have wondered for instance, about slimy, and unpleasant-looking algae blooms in areas that used to have pristine, clear waters; this is simply one example of imbalances in marine systems where one species or more have either been fished out to unsustainable levels, or ocean pollution has killed them off.
Apart from reducing oxygen levels in the water, algae can spread and choke off other marine life. Plus, it can be rather unpleasant to swim in or through, and equally unpleasant to behold. While the marketing of Fiji as a destination with enviable stretches of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters would become far more difficult because these elements are expected from potential visitors, and depends to a large extent on the ability to continue to deliver these.
Marine pollution, we are reminded often enough – has no borders. Because marine pollutants entering oceans in one country may travel long distances due to shifting winds, seasonal currents and migrating species. There are global efforts in place to restore ocean health; that aim to regenerate and recover marine ecosystems by 2030 through a series of actions to achieve cleaner marine waters, restore their rich biodiversity and make our blue economy climate-friendly.
That same blue economy is so vital to Pacific Island Countries (PICs) because the ocean has traditionally offered enormous opportunities for us in fisheries, marine transport, and coastal tourism. But looking beyond just financial and economic wealth, the ocean is also part of the interwoven fabric of our culture and way of life.
Additionally, whether we appreciate it or not; mangroves as an example of a critical element of marine health, protect our low-lying communities from the worst impacts of storms and flooding.
The health of our oceans and coasts is connected to our economic and social well-being. However, global threats such as climate change, mangrove destruction, and overfishing threaten to degrade these very resources we simply take for granted.
The Blue Economy is explicitly supported by Goal 14 of the SDGs which aims to ensure the sustainable management of “life below water”. While managing the Blue Economy is complex because one sector’s activities can have impacts on many ecosystems, industries, and communities; it also means that as a country, Fiji must work more collaboratively domestically and internationally to share data, innovative technical and even historically used traditional methodology and resources.
These efforts include the banning of certain single-use plastic items – something Fiji has done in sporadic and often bizarre ways with less than conducive or pragmatic benefits – we have banned some plastic bags and takeaway food containers but still allow alternative food container replacements and fresh produce bags in supermarkets that are even stronger.
Other efforts include encouraging ship operators to deliver all waste to ports, improving the rules on reporting lost fishing gear, restricting microplastics intentionally added to products, such as in cosmetics or detergents, and reducing emissions of microplastics to the environment. Areas and efforts that Fiji is still way behind on.
But there are many ways we can as individuals, families, groups, schools, businesses and industries play far more effective roles while pressing for policies that will support these efforts at a national level. And these efforts however small, would make incremental but impactful changes. As the World Bank report on the Potential of the Blue Economy notes, “A second significant issue is the realization that the sustainable management of ocean resources requires collaboration across nation-states and the public-private sectors, and on a scale that has not been previously achieved”.
While our efforts are currently small, we must scale up our collective efforts quickly, but recognize that any effort at all to make a difference is just as important. So do what you can as a concerned individual or group.
Use sustainable fishing practices where you can (eg. take only what you need and don’t use small mesh nets), protect breeding seasons and sites, avoid buying undersized fish (report that seller), and support the establishing and maintaining respect for community tabu areas.
Together we can help fish stocks recover and do our bit to maintain the delicate balance of underwater ecosystems. Our collective efforts, as small as they might be, can make a difference.
So now that you have improved your “ocean IQ”- spread the word, skip single-use plastics, travel smarter, and do no harm – especially to our marine life.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 July 2023)