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Overfishing: A voyager’s perspective

“Maroroya na wasawasa, na wasawasa e na maroroi iko” roughly translates, “Care or look after the ocean, and the ocean will look after you.”

Fiji is just one of the many voices in an ocean of wilderness, sounding a trumpet of caution against over-harvesting of our marine resources. Like other smaller countries in the South Pacific, Fiji faces imminent danger of depletion of its valuable marine stocks resources to commercial fishing - something that has sustained them for thousands of years.

Fish accounts for the greatest percentage of the world's protein consumed by humans - the Pacific Ocean alone yielding approximately 140 million tons (2007) annually. Unless we are vigilant and constantly keep corporate or capitalistic exploitation of our marine stocks in check, we – and the world – risking losing critically important eco-systems through the depletion of various marine organism or organisms. We have witnessed such calamities even in our lifetime in other seas and oceans and now the risk is at our shores.

After destroying their fishing stocks due primarily to poor management, more powerful or influential countries are now undeniably contributing to overfishing in the Pacific. "They approach the little countries that need aid, need money and need some commercial activity. For example, it’s hard to say for to our brothers in Kiribati, ‘don’t go bringing all these boats in there because it’s affecting all of us down here,’ when nobody is taking care of Kiribati, says Graham Southwick, Managing Director of Fiji Fish Ltd.

We continue to witness overfishing of sharks in the Pacific, which happens to occupy the apex of the food web that largely defines our ocean ecosystems. We have seen how declining shark populations have cascading effects through the entire trophic system, tipping the balance of life in our oceans. Ultimately overfishing may lead to resource depletion in cases of subsidised fishing, low biological growth rates and critical low biomass levels e.g. by critical depensation growth properties. (Photo insert - right: Blue sharks in Kessenuma, Japan - Shawn Heinricks)

The ability of a fishery to recover after overfishing depends on whether the ecosystem conditions are conducive for the recovery. Dramatic changes in species composition can result in an ecosystem shift, where other equilibrium energy flows involve species compositions other than those that had been present before. For example, once flying fish have been overfished, skip jack tuna might take over in a way that makes it impossible for the flying fish to re-establish a breeding population.(Photo Insert - below: Shark fin in Kessenuma, Japan - Shawn Heinricks)

The challenge for fisheries scientists and managers is not only to ensure that the remaining stocks (populations) of fish do not decline from current levels, but also to adopt regulations that will lead to recovery of fisheries that already have declined.

An age-old marine conservation practice that has, and still is being used very successfully in Fiji - and possibly in other Pacific states - is the temporary placement of no-go fishing zones (or tabu), a cost effective procedure which make fishing there strictly illegal, so the fish in that area have time to recover and repopulate. Some academic and industry experts still consider this view a rather radical approach, despite the numerous past and ongoing case studies that show otherwise.

Alterations in ocean temperatures and currents together with the food chains in open oceans, are projected to affect future location and abundance of tuna species in the Pacific Island regions. This of course is of grave concern; a message the Uto no Yalo also carries.

It must be mentioned that neither the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society nor its members claim or profess to be practitioners of any scientific work or studies – even though some of our are members are well qualified to do so. Instead, the Society and its membership are focused more on creating mutually beneficial partnerships that support advocacy goals.

Lets all work together to save our oceans through wise careful stewardship of what we take from it. To find out more about overfishing, visit the Center for Ocean Solutions website.