Sawaieke villagers on Gau Island will take stronger measures against poaching to protect the abundance and diversity of their marine resources.
One of the solutions islanders have identified will ease the islands poaching problem include signing a Memorandum of Understanding with tourist vessels that sail to the island for diving.
Tourist vessels were identified as part of the list of perpetrators of poaching that also include passing fishing boats, crews of Government vessels, and qoliqoli owners that don’t have a license to commercially fish.
Islanders believe, the MOU with tourist vessels will help flag the poaching issue with tourist operators and also create a common understanding that when they visit Gau waters they will not gather beach-de-mer as has been alleged is happening.
Another solution reached included raising the issue with all parties identified to be illegally poaching in Gau waters.
Islanders discussed the many negatives of poaching at a workshop organised by WWF South Pacific for Sawaieke district in September.
Poaching, they agreed, threatened their food security, income source and main source of protein.
The region is heavily dependent on fish species as the only source of protein and fishing is deep rooted in its traditions and daily livelihood practices; not only practiced by men but young boys and women alike.
The advent of modern fishing gears and night fishing is also thought to have exacerbated the problem.
Fisheries Department Officer Maata Inoki, who was part of the workshop, said overfishing which is a national problem only became a concern for Gau Island after poachers began plundering the maritime island’s waters.
He stated the need for enforcement of fishing laws on Gau Island and to strengthen its existing policy on poaching.
“We have introduced sea patrols and hope to increase policing to provide more security to the qoliqoli areas. Currently there are laws existing on license and its registration, but because these laws are largely ignored illegal fishing is common,” he added.
Sawaieke village fish warden, Jiwai Jiwai Qaranivalu said it is important for workshops on poaching to continue to bring people together to discuss a serious issue that can only be combated on a united front.
“Poaching threatens the richness of our food sources, it can cause it to disappear altogether especially if overfishing will affect the environment, the numbers and balance of ecosystems in which such workshops are a good idea to bring people of the district together to discuss the issues of poaching and its threats biodiversity and related ecosystems.
He explained the procedure for obtaining licenses that requires only two authorising letters, one from the Turaga Takala-i- Gau and the other from Commissioner Eastern.
“A license fee must then be paid. Different fishing grounds have different fee structures depending on their area”, he informed.
Qaranivalu said that poaching has worsened in recent years because people refuse to follow laws.