Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (July 10) – All Fijian customary fishing grounds have belonged to the State since 1881.

For more than a century, Fijian concerns over the ownership of their reef and foreshore have been constantly raised in meetings of the Great Council of Chiefs.

That is why chiefs welcomed a promise by Queen Victoria in 1881 to restore the qoliqoli [traditional community-owned fishing grounds] rights that were given to the State.

Fijians value their qoliqoli as this is where they fish for their daily meals — part of their culture and tradition passed down from generation to generation.

The Customary Fishing Bill proposed by the Government offers two changes. One is the establishment of the Customary Fisheries Commission, replacing the Native Fisheries Commission, and the transfer of the legal ownership of all land, soil, seabed and reef in the customary fishing areas in Fiji, from the State to the Native Land Trust Board.

But the Government needs to consult widely and thoroughly before passing the legislation, as it will have serious implications on our fragile tourism industry, the private sector and landowners.

One thing is clear, we cannot afford a repeat of the 1987 and 2000 upheavals.

Many Fijians believe, and it is often discussed around the yaqona [kava] bowl in villages, that the two coups were a result of the neglect of Fijian aspirations by previous governments.

Fijians have suffered for long and it will be fair to see this issue addressed immediately.

The Government must address all concerns of parties who will be affected by changes in the Bill.

The Bill needs to ensure the provision of a management regime, fair and equitable to the owners and users of the qoliqoli, as tourism is our main source of revenue.

For too long money has been milked from Fijians for the use of their qoliqoli, something they passionately cling to, even though we know watersports including diving, yachting, surfing, fishing and canoeing are carried out in their waters.

The indigenous Fijians feel their fishing grounds have been commercially exploited, polluted and environmentally degraded, with no proper agreement or compensation, and rightly so.

They have woken up after fish stocks in their fishing grounds have been depleted, coral reefs destroyed and mangrove trees strangled.

The concerns raised by Fiji Tourism Landowners Association president Ratu Osea Gavidi to this newspaper need to be seriously considered.

He suggests that the administration, management and policing of fishing grounds be done by the vanua.

It is a good thing if villagers are trained to run their financial affairs from the income received from their qoliqoli as the NLTB is another government bureaucracy with a questionable track record.

To ensure transparency, Ratu Osea recommends the establishment of a Customary Fisheries Board to be elected by the 410 vanua which own fishing grounds and not NLTB, as recommended in the draft Bill.

The vanua, he says, should be responsible for the issuing of a lease, licence or permit according to the agreement between the parties.

Everyone deserves their share of the cake.

July 11, 2005

Fiji Times: http://www.fijitimes.com/

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