Vanuatu Fisheries Director Defends Confiscation Of Torba Coconut Crabs

Species listed on IUCN Red List cannot be returned

Compiled by Thompson Marango

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Feb. 21, 2017) – Threatened species of marine resources including the coconut crab (Birgus Latro) listed under the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List cannot be returned to where they originate.

Fisheries Department Director, Kalo Pakoa made the explanation in response to angry Torba chiefs and leaders after 200 coconut carbs were confiscated by the Fisheries Department earlier this month.

“By law any products confiscated is under discretion of the Department of Fisheries and cannot be returned where it originates,” Mr Pakoa stated.

“Such products include coconut crab, lobster, trochus, green snail, fish, turtle and any other marine products prescribed by law etc.”

According to a statement, the Fisheries Department is beefing up its enforcement in 2017 to clamp down on illegal fishing and trading of fisheries products in the country.

“The recent confiscation of coconut crabs and lobsters from Torres Islands on an inter-island vessel on Santo and again in Vila is part of such activities.

“The Department is informing the general public and resource owners in the islands that it will take action to confiscate any consignment of fisheries products at the airport, wharf, market outlet, restaurants and hotels and any storage areas if the products are illegally obtained and charge heavy fines for illegal possession of certain fisheries products.

“These activities are jointly being conducted with the Police Maritime Wing branch of the Police force and Police Officers in the provinces.”

Meanwhile Torres Chiefs and also their Member of Parliament, have express their frustration in the media threatening to sue the Fisheries for the loss of their coconut crabs which are means to raise funds for their children’s school fees.

Coconut crab is a national icon pictured on the new 10 vatu coin, and stamps. It is a local delicacy much sought after by visitors and was first listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened species in 1980s because its existence is critically in danger of disappearing based on scientific assessment of the species.

It is a rare species globally with geographical distribution range from Indian Ocean islands to Eastern Indonesia, Philippines and Pacific Islands and where it is present, its stock is usually small and because of its delicacy it is under threat from exploitation. Coconut crab has become extinct in the Islands of Maldives in the Indian Ocean because of human impact.

In Vanuatu the population of coconut crab is small and the stock is threatened with local disappearance by deforestation of coastal habitat for agriculture, forestry and livestock farming, predation by feral and domesticated animals but the most importantly threat to its existence is from irresponsible harvesting by human beings. Torres Islands in the North, East Santo, North Maewo and Erromango are blessed with this resource plus a few other islands in small populations. For this very reason there is tight control on the harvesting and trading of this resource.

Fisheries Department as a regulatory authority for fisheries resources has a duty to regulate coconut crab fishery to protect the stock from excessive harvesting and to preserve the species from disappearing.

Commercial exports of coconut crab from Vanuatu is not encouraged, domestic sale is permitted but restricted to valid licensed holders only, harvest is controlled by open season for the main areas and harvest quota for Banks-Torres (5000 crabs), Santo (2500 crabs), Maewo (1,500 crabs) and Erromango (2000 crabs) is allowed, harvest size must be 9cm or above for all islands and 12cm or above for the Banks and Torres region, and adult female with egg must not be harvested and sold. Any coconut crab on sale at the market or on its way to the market that satisfies this regulation is good to be sold, anything of the contrary is deemed to be illegal and will be confiscated if caught and the owner liable to penalty fines.

The Department says it is also setting up networking with communities across the country with appointment of community fisheries authorized officers in the islands. These voluntary officers so far have been providing valuable information on potential illegal fisheries activities. The use of mobile telephone has also made it much easier for people in the islands to report suspicious fishing activity directly to the Department.

The Department is appealing to all marine resource owners and potential traders to respect the law and to seek information from the Department first for any issue they are unsure of before they conduct any harvest and trading of fisheries products so that it is not wasted as happened recently.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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