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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 27) - The Great Council of Chiefs has called on fishermen to exercise wisdom when catching turtles for traditional occasions.

GCC secretary Asesela Sadole said the council supported the capture of turtles as long as it was done in compliance with the guidelines set by the Ministry of Fisheries and nature conservative groups.

"(Given that) turtles are at risk of being an endangered species, it is wise for fishermen to exercise wisdom in catching these creatures so that they do not become extinct," he said.

The call follows concerns raised by the Worldwide Fund for Nature about the control of catching and slaughtering turtles and the fear of them becoming extinct.

Last month nine turtles were caught for the installation ceremony of a chief in a province in the West.

Acting Director for Fisheries Saimoni Tuilaucala said the department's five-year ban on the catching of turtles was still in place but there were provisions for traditional gatherings if the villagers applied for a permit from the ministry.

He said fishermen needed to liaise with their respective divisional fisheries officers in applying for the permits.

"Some ask to catch 10 or more turtles for their functions but we cut it down to two or three only," he said.

He said the ministry was working closely with the WWF Fiji to preserve and manage the turtle population.

WWF Fiji manager Etika Rupeni said the turtle ban should apply to everyone and that the Government needed to develop a Turtle Strategic Conservation Plan so that the ban could be effective.

"We are dealing with a critically endangered species of our marine life and serious policies should be in place if we want them to be still around in years to come," he said.

October 28, 2005

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