By Theresa Fox
More than 350 people in Mali District, Macuata Province stand to benefit from a new approach to the management of their qoliqoli or fishing grounds by eradicating poaching.
District level qoliqoli management as opposed to management at the collective (qoliqoli cokovata) district level is being trialled in Mali to combat poaching and protect livelihoods.
Mali District is made up of four villages, Matailabasa, Vesi, Ligaulevu, Nakawaga and two islands, Mali and Vorovoro.
It is the smallest of the four districts (Mali, Dreketi, Sasa, and Macuata) which make up the collective qoliqoli or fishing grounds — the Qoliqoli Cokovata of Macuata (QCM).
The total area for the collective fishing ground is 1344 square kilometres, parts of which have been declared no-take or tabu areas since 2005.
The custodial owners of the qoliqoli cokovata occupy an expansive 2064 km2 of land, communing in 37 villages and three outlying islands — Mali, Kia and Macuata-i-wai. A number of settlements and cane farming homesteads are interspersed throughout with the total population living within the QCM boundaries numbering more than 4000.
Around 75 per cent of these rely on natural resource extraction for a source of income and for food.
Their participation in the sustainable management of their qoliqoli is therefore essential.
However, qoliqoli management at the four district level is often fraught with challenges because of the widespread distribution of the population.
The sheer size of the qoliqoli cokovata requires a large amount of funding to be used by the management committee of the qoliqoli especially for the financing of fish warden equipment and surveillance resources.
It turned out to be a cumbersome and ineffective method of management as poachers continued their plunder.
The qoliqoli cokovata tabu areas contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of Fijis longest and most complex reef system, the Great Sea Reef which encloses them and poaching undermines this effort.
As an area of global significance and priority to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Great Sea Reef is home to high marine biodiversity and is a major economic source bolstering both the fisheries and tourism sectors, and sustaining thousands of lives.
WWF South Pacific, through the Australian Government's Fiji Community Development Program funded project titled "Building Effective Community Driven Governance Systems in Mali District to Enhance Community Access to Food, Income Generating Opportunities and Livelihoods", is working with Mali District to test the effectiveness of district level management of their qoliqoli as opposed to that enforced collectively by the four districts.
The overall project goal is that by 2014, Mali District would have established district level governance and financing structures that demonstratea locally relevant, feasible and replicable approach that allows the community to sustainably manage their coastal development and, local marine areas, for food and livelihood security for a community more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Project officer Unaisi Malani said the multifaceted approach of the project involved all members of the community — youth, women and men.
Governance trainings focus on accountability and transparency and involves leaders of the community.
Financial literacy training for various groups like the women's groups, youth and individuals emphasised the importance of smart budgeting, and living within one's means.
"The training clarifies the linkages between sustainable household income and sustainable natural resource management," Malani said. "If they are able to sustainably manage their household income, they are less likely to harvest more resources than they need, allowing nature to replenish itself and marine creatures to thrive."
Fish wardens were also trained by officials from the Department of Fisheries, Fiji Environmental Law Association and also Fiji's Police Department and received an induction on the laws which govern poaching, the policing of fisheries and the legal authority of fish wardens.
Both male and female fish wardens will be equipped with real-time communications technology to strengthen enforcement close to the beach and further out to sea.
Another important aspect of the project is exploring the viability of small or micro enterprise niches that exist in the district and could provide people with an alternative source of income to that gained from fishing.
Representatives from each of the three other districts are also participating in activities and training sessions on Mali and drawing lessons from the successes of the Mali project.
If successful, this model of district fisheries management being tested on Mali will be replicated in the three other QCM districts and will hopefully sever the ugly head of poaching.
* Theresa Fox is the communications officer of WWF Pacific.