Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Sept. 30, 2008) - The Fisheries Department must take urgent action to help indigenous communities protect native fishing grounds from poachers and illegal fishermen.

Recent reports from Kadavu [island south of the biggest main island of Fiji shaped like New Zealand] tell of the increase in the number of illegal fishing operations in an area known for its vast fish stocks. In Macuata [on the 2nd biggest island of Fiji; north of the main island], the paramount chief has warned all fishermen to ensure they are licensed or face the wrath of the local communities.

This shows the deep concern the indigenous population has for the depletion of fish stocks which they use for sustenance and revenue generation.

Yet illegal fishermen continue to use high-speed boats to move in and out of traditional fishing areas with scant regard for the people who own the valuable resources of the sea.

Villagers remain powerless to protest because they often cannot match the speed of the poachers’ vessels.

In some cases the villagers are coastal dwellers who have little use for outboard engines. And in extreme cases the fishing wardens appointed by the people do not have the means with which to pursue illegal fishermen.

Reports from these wardens follow a lengthy process which involves the Fisheries Department and the police.

But police and the Fisheries Department do not have the resources with which to patrol the coastal waters of this maritime nation.

Nor does the Fisheries Department have a compliance division which watches over coastal areas and intervenes when fishermen illegal or otherwise - are involved in illegal fishing, breach license conditions or take undersized marine life.

There can be little hope for protection of the rights of the fishing ground owners in a situation such as this.

The navy is powerless to help. Its fleet spends much of the time berthed at Walu Bay [less than a quarter mile from Suva City center], hampered by the lack of fuel for operations which might deter illegal activity.

The time has come for real action in the area of illegal fishing. Fish wardens must be given radio equipment which allows for communication along the coast and in turn can lead to the arrest of poachers.

The wardens should also have powerful binoculars with which to identify the illegal fishermen. These are relatively inexpensive methods to deal with the problem.

Failure to address the issue now could lead to an unwanted, violent confrontation between the indigenous owners of fishing grounds and the poachers.

We do not want that to happen.

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