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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Sept. 3) – There are reports that around 40 endangered turtles were slaughtered during the annual Methodist Church Conference in Macuata, Vanua Levu.

This is despite the Fisheries Department giving approval for only three turtles to be caught and spread for "traditional purposes" and with promise that the catching of turtles will be policed.

However, Senior Fisheries Officer Aisake Batibasaga said the officers stationed in Macuata who have been monitoring the number of turtles caught by members of the Methodist church have reported that a lot more turtles have been caught.

He said the reason why the Fisheries Department did not allow more then three turtles to be harvested are because they are "highly endangered creatures."

Batibasaga also said that there are severe penalties for the illegal catching of turtles.

Offenders can be sent up to five years imprisonment or fined up to $20,000 for illegal turtle fishing. Those caught selling turtles also face similar punishment.

The officers stationed in Macuata will be reporting back their official findings to their Suva headquarters tomorrow. It is understood that a decision will be made then on whether to prosecute the offenders.

Comments have been sought from the Fisheries Permanent Secretary Niumeia Tabukawai and the Methodist Church.

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