Bagged, freshly caught fish are seen at a local fish market in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga, early in the morning. (Colette Wabnitz)

Important fish stocks in Tongan waters are dwindling and fishermen  need to be better educated on ways to preserve numbers, a major international report has recommended.

The report by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation was part of a five year long investigation of fish and reef conditions around the world.

This was the largest coral reef survey and mapping expedition in history.

The study was designed to assess the impact of man-made and natural disturbances on reef ecosystems, including runoff, climate change, storm damage, and Crown-of-Thorns Starfish outbreaks.

The survey was undertaken in September-October 2013 and concentrated on 58 dive sites in Ha’apai, Vava’u, and Niuatoputapu.

The survey report said fish populations had suffered badly since the 1950s when dynamite fishing was practiced.

Although dynamite fishing had been banned, other fishing practices, such as spear fishing, long line fishing, and net fishing were introduced, the human populations grew and the numbr of fish landed continued to increase.

Fishing regulations had not been able to keep up with the demand from both local subsistence fishers and fisheries exports.

The combined effects of overfishing practices and other pressures could lead to a drastic decline in the overall health of the coral reefs and fish communities.

The report said the Tongan Ministry of Fisheries had done substantial work to protect the country’s fisheries resources.

“We recommend substantial effort be dedicated to educating the people of Niuatoputapu on the importance of sustainable fishing practices, as well as to protecting the marine resources and reefs surrounding the northern Niua islands from larger fishing vessels,” the report said.

“These reefs are of critical importance in providing new reef fish to the southern island groups that are exposed to increased pressures.

“Overall, the reef fish species that are particularly important to local fishers, such as parrotfish, emperors, snapper, and groupers, all of which play an important economic and ecological are at critical low.

“It is critical that accurate documentation of the number of fish landings, as well as their size and species distribution, be recorded and provided by local fishermen as there is limited information being collected on this currently.

“It is important to continue engaging with local fishers to establish quota and size restrictions that will best protect and improve the populations of economically important reef fish species.” 

The main points

For more information

Global Reef Expedition: Kingdom of Tonga Final Report

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