In Fiji, we began with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Pacific and 12 communities in the northern Province of Macuata on Vanua Levu as partners, and additional support from NZ Aid.
With an initial workshop held in the chiefly village of Naduri in October 2014, we trained a fish measurer from each community, built measuring boards and prioritised 20 species. By mid 2016 some 5,226 fish had been measured and on that basis an initial 5 stock assessments were completed. In November 2016 the assessments were reported to the partnering communities who agreed that fishing for camouflage grouper (E. polyphekadion) and Brown-marbled grouper (E. fuscoguttatus) would be banned during 2017 prior to the implementation of an initial minimum size limit in 2018.
In November 2016, together with WWF, we also began working with the large urban community of Tavua on the north coast of Vitu Levu. By June 2017, with the data collected by community members and the Institute of Applied Science of the University of the South Pacific, it was possible to complete an assessment for thumbprint emperor (Lethrinus harak), which is now the main species caught by that community. Our reporting of that result led the Tui Tavua to declare an immediate 6 month closure for that species and the implementation of minimum size limit that will come into effect in 2018.
In September 2017, WWF opened a third site in the Yasawa Islands northwest of the Vitu Levu and the community there began measuring a list of priority species. In parallel to WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society has also been working with communities in Ba at the western end of Vanua Levu measuring four main species of fish and mudcrabs.
This grass roots work with the communities has been accompanied by a growing national awareness of the need to reform reef fish management. Within the Ministry of Fisheries, a Coastal Fisheries Management Division has been created to parallel the Offshore Fisheries Management Division which has been in existence for many years. Community complaints that markets were not complying with the bans implemented in 2017 galvanized Ministry of Fisheries staff to work with the police and NGO legal advisors to resolve legal issues (previously interpreted as preventing the enforcement of fisheries regulations in the market place), preparing the way it is hoped for more effective enforcement of the first minimum size limits to be implemented in 2018.
In September 2017 the NGO partners reached agreement with senior Ministry of Fisheries officials and the Minister, on a two year time-line to use the results from the SPS monitoring programs to reform and re-implement the existing system of size limits which has never been enforced.