THE population of more than 20 important marine species in Fiji have dwindled in recent times owing to exploitation.
Minister for Fisheries Semi Koroilavesau told attendees of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s organised Fiji Beche-de-Mer Forum in Suva that new management measures were needed to reverse the dwindling populations of creatures including sea cucumbers.
Mr Koroilavesau attributed some of the reduction in fishery stock to the use of Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA) which was only recently banned.
The minister said the government had plans in place to address the issue. His comments come in light of recent research which affirms the belief that the industry was at a critical time.
"The adoption of the National Sea Cucumber Management Plan is of high importance. Although there are more than 20 commercially important species in Fiji, populations have been declining due to fishing by a high number of fishers," Minister Koroilavesau said.
"Over-exploitation of sea cucumbers using Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA) is a health concern in Fiji, which the Government is taking very seriously. The Ministry had drafted a National Sea-cucumber Management Plan in consultation with its partners and stakeholders which is yet to be endorsed by Cabinet," Minister Koroilavesau said.
One of two study reports launched at the same forum was by WCS and it reinforced the fisheries ministers concerns.
The research supports the ban on UBA, an issue which continues to attract controversy especially as current consultations for other fisheries department plans give the public space to voice feedback on the fisheries industry.
"Overall, the recent studies validate the new ban on UBA in the fishery, but urge for further reforms to management. The studies provide evidence for the introduction of better minimum legal size limits, shortlists of permissible species, and limited entry requirements to reduce the number of fishers permitted to collect sea cucumbers," the WCS research report said.
"At the same time, management actions are needed to strengthen enforcement of the regulations, support better postharvest processing and value chains, and develop nation-wide standards for pricing of raw and dried sea cucumbers."
According to the fisheries department, there has been an frequency of serious diving accidents and fatalities because of the use of UBA.
"Studies and data collected showed that between 2003 and 2012, export volumes of high-value species declined from 14 percent to 8 percent of overall exports," Mr Koroilavesau said.
Intense fishing pressure has caused shifts in catch composition and increased risk for populations of some species that might not be able to recover, he added.
The one day meet was attended by researchers, fishery managers, industry members and stakeholders.
Source: Fiji Times online