Fiji fish stocks under threat after reef damage from Winston
A warning has been sounded in Fiji about newly revealed damage to community fishing grounds in the path of Cyclone Winston.
A warning has been sounded about fish stocks in Fiji after newly revealed damage to community fishing grounds in the path of Cyclone Winston.
A marine ecologist Sangeeta Mangubai started an underwater survey of the coral reefs which form the habitat of fish which supply people with food and earnings.
She told Sally Round in the first few days diving she's seen massive chunks of coral broken off during the waves thrown up by Winston two months ago.
SANGEETA MANGUBHAI: There's been a massive amount of dislodgement of very large corals, some of them up to two metres across, just broken off at their bases and really pushed up into the shallows, a lot of movement and breakage of the reef structure itself. We've lost a lot of habitat that's very important for the inshore fish in particular so I think, similar to what they've seen in other countries, we're probably going to see a decline in the fisheries over the next couple of years until those habitats can really stabilise and also so that recovery process can happen.
SALLY ROUND: So how long does it take before fish start to return?
SM: Well this is just based on predictions. I guess we know a little a bit from some work in New Caledonia, some stuff on the Great Barrier Reef where they had a look at the impact of fisheries. My colleagues on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority advised me that they saw declines in fisheries up to two years after a cyclone.
SR: So this is very worrying for those communities that are pretty much at subsistence level?
SM: Yes a mixture of subsistence but also there's also fishing for livelihoods. One of the reasons why we wanted to do this work was because the Department of Fisheries wanted a bit more guidance for these areas. I guess estimating how much fishing they could sustain after a cyclone because obviously people need to feed themselves. Some areas previously had commercial licenses. They want some feedback on whether those places can sustain those licenses and then at the same time a lot of communities are also interested in finding out ... they've had these tabu areas, these seasonal closures that they set up, sometimes up to five years where they close an area off to build up the fish stocks ... and so a lot of them are wanting to know whether they should be leaving them, or they're in a time of emergency and that's what they're really set up for, should they be opening them and try to harvest them, to get a little bit of income so they can use it to rebuild their lives. So these are quite big questions we're going to have to try and answer in the next four weeks at the sites that we do.
SR: Do you have any idea at this stage as to what any of those answers might be? Should they go out and fish? Are the fish there?
SM: I mean there is fish there but I think it's going to be a combination, so what we're going to do is, once we get across multiple different sites, we're going to get a sense of the scale of the damage on the inshore areas is the first thing. The second thing is, very separately, the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with a whole lot of NGOs in Fiji have also done some surveys where they've actually gone around and questioned communities in which we try to find out for them what was their dependence on fisheries before the cyclone, for food and for livelihoods and what is it now so we can understand what was very important to them before and then we want to match that up against the ecological data with the state of the reefs themselves. You know I think it's going to be a combination. We need to try and scale some of these things, maybe there's some areas where we might say ' the only thing you should do is low level subsistence fishing for the next few years', in other areas we might say 'okay, it can handle a fair amount of it' or maybe we might limit the number of commercial licenses in an area and then we're hoping there might be areas that haven't been damaged where we can say these are the areas where you could allow some level of, obviously within sustainable limits, of commercial fishing.
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