Posted on 10 July 2015
A Sustainable Seafood Programme in Fiji aims to strengthen the collaboration between local inshore fishing communities and leading hotels. Here’s how partners are working to get the ‘right’ fish to tourists’ dining tables.
By 2025, 10 years from now, there will be a high demand in the market for sustainable seafood from Fiji's seafood retailers and consumers, and the industry will be committed to sourcing it wherever possible.
This is a main objective under the Transformational Strategy of the Fiji Sustainable Seafood Programme, which is being implemented for three years (April 2014 to April 2017) with the primary aim of sustainable fisheries management, in order to secure food and livelihoods for people in coastal communities in Fiji.
A partnership between WWF and the New Zealand Aid Programme, working with the famed cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, the project is keen on establishing a strong collaboration between local fishing communities and hotels for sustainable inshore fisheries management and seafood supply.
The ocean has been central to life in Fiji for hundreds of years. It is a food source, a benchmark of local and cultural identity, and essential to the people’s economic well-being, as a way to alleviate poverty and raise their living standards.
Increasing domestic demand for fish, continuing exploitation of inshore fisheries, and the absence of effective management have become serious concerns, however, especially since the majority of the communities rely on marine resources to survive. It has thus become crucial to engage all sectors in the industry to adopt responsible practices, and to improve inshore fisheries management.
“The first step will be to improve community fisheries management at the site level, where WWF is investing much of its effort, to build the community fisheries management committees’ ability and capacity for governance, self-management, and co-management with the national fisheries department,” says WWF-Pacific’s Francis Areki, Project Manager of the Sustainable Seafood Programme.
The direct beneficiaries of the programme are 37 indigenous villages and 10 informal cane farming settlements in four districts in the northern part of Fiji: Dreketi, Sasa, Mali, and Macuata. The area has a population of over 4,000, with 75% of households making a living from the extraction of natural resources.
The districts share customary ownership of some 1,349 km2 of inshore fishing grounds (called qoliqoli), known as Qoliqoli Cokovata. The largest network of protected areas in Fiji, known as tabu areas, is also located within Qoliqoli Cokovata.
“WWF has worked with this particular community for over 12 years,” explains Areki. “Their fishing ground is significant, as it lies within the Great Sea Reef system, the third longest barrier reef system in the southern hemisphere and a priority area of WWF-Pacific. WWF’s intention is to demonstrate sustainable fisheries within the area, which should encourage similar practices across the length of the system over time.”
A big part of the vision of the Sustainable Seafood Programme is working with the hospitality sector to establish a system for tracing seafood back to its source, while supporting a mechanism that finances fisheries management so hotels can be assured that they are marketing sustainably sourced items on their menus. Thus, the hospitality sector is critical to the success of the project.
“Fiji gets more than half a million tourists a year, accounting for at least a fifth of all tourists to the Pacific region,” reveals Areki. “Tourism is Fiji’s main foreign exchange earner, with earnings estimated at over Fiji $1 billion (about US$470 million) in 2014. So the sector is very important when we talk about sustainable consumption. We hope that through our partnership with targeted hotels, we will be able to work with them to demonstrate local sustainable seafood sourcing, and also work with fishermen and fishing communities so they get better value for their seafood, which they can reinvest into the management of their fishing grounds.”
The project’s “main lead” with pilot hotels in Fiji, Areki says, is Le Cordon Bleu, which will be training chefs in pilot hotels such as The Hilton, Shangri-La, Sofitel, and Outrigger to improve their sourcing of local seafood, to establish systems for tracing their seafood
along the supply chain, and most significantly, to deepen their responsibility to local communities and aid in poverty reduction and development.
“Tourism, especially in the case of Fiji, is nature-based,” says Areki. “In order to have a sustainable supply of seafood reaching the hotels, the fishing grounds that support the supply must be healthy and productive. In order to have that, hotels as consumers need to invest back into the fishing grounds to support community management efforts.”
The project also aims to equip people with skills to add value to the marine resources they harvest, allowing them to earn more money from the same catch, minimise overfishing, and allow fish stocks to recover. “One of the areas this project is focused on is the promotion of ice usage to maintain fish quality and mitigate problems of food poisoning through poor handling,” Areki says. Since some of the communities do not have electricity, technologies such as solar freezers will be explored.
Ultimately, the programme is gunning for four core outcomes: community support and empowerment, sustainable development planning at the district level, responsible seafood sourcing, and the comprehensive mapping of Fiji’s seafood supply chain, to record how seafood is handled before it reaches consumers.
Big institutions may have already signed on, but Areki is hoping to loop in even more prestigious team members. “The project team is keeping its eye open for more potential partner collaborations to build upon the project and its activities.”