Fiji woman hopes she can pass on fishing traditions to her son despite challenges of climate change

Illustration by Eejoon Choi

By Paea Halatanu Nawaqatabu

Maraia Manafau, 24, has sold fish at the market in Suva, Fiji for the past decade. She and her husband, who have three children, get their fish from deep-sea divers and coastal net fishermen and sell them through their business Matanicagi Enterprise, which means “direction of the wind.”

Listen to Maraia Manafau’s story

Manafau has seen firsthand the effects of climate change through the fish she sells. Over the years she’s observed divers and coastal fishermen catch smaller-sized fish because of pollution and other negative impacts of climate change. 

“You can see the rubbish coming down [the creek]… The new divers will go and dive, any fish that go across they’ll like, kill it and they’ll bring it onshore. I think that’s why normally fish nowadays are getting smaller. It’s not going to be improved because it’s supposed to bring only the size you know the good size one. Only the small ones are coming into their nets.”

Maraia Manafau

Left: Maraia Manafau stands at her fish stall with bags of fish offcuts and sardine fish she bought from Factory Golden Ocean, selling them at an affordable price to consumers. Photo by Paea Nawaqatabu

Manafau is one of nearly 900,000 residents living in Fiji experiencing the impacts of climate change despite the Pacific Island not being a major contributor to it.  As the temperatures of the ocean change, fish stocks are forced to migrate to areas for “normal” temperatures. Fiji also continues to be heavily affected by natural disasters. At the time of this interview, the most recent Tropical Cyclone Cody, moved away from Fiji but caused heavy flooding and power outages in the western division. 

Manafau and her family have witnessed those changes in climate through the years. They are part of a lineage known as “people of the water,” originating from the outer islands. Her parents also sold fish, her uncle was a deep-sea diver, and her second son wants to become a diver when he grows up. 

Her son’s dreams may very well be impacted by the change in the climate.

“My son, he’ll be a diver, because he just loves fishing. He just loves being on the side of the river and the creeks,” she said. “…At home whatever he does he just loves fishing… that’s what he loves the most. So whatever he wants in life, we’ll just have to prepare for that.”

Maraia Manafau keeps flies away from her fish. She goes to the market every Monday to Saturday and sells at least 10 bundles of fresh fish from the sea if they’re lucky. Nowadays, she also sells bags of offcut fish and bags of sardines from Factory Golden Ocean as seen in the photo. Photo by Paea Nawaqatabu
Maraia Manafau sells a bag of fish offcuts and bags of sardines at an affordable price to a customer. Over the years, she has seen the sizes of parrot fish and mackerel tuna decrease. Photo by Paea Nawaqatabu
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By Paea Halatanu Nawaqatabu

Paea Halatanu Nawaqatabu is a biology and chemistry student at the University of the South Pacific. She was born and raised in Suva, Fiji Islands. She also takes intermediate French at Alliance Française de Suva. She is a social networking services supporter for the Embassy of Korea in Fiji. During her spare time, she enjoys enhancing her Japanese and Korean language skills as well as designing Fijian fans. She is free-spirited.

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