Declining fish populations are putting the livelihoods of Fijian fishermen in jeopardy

Illustration by Ard Su

By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti

The island nation of Fiji is surrounded by the ocean, so it’s only natural that the ocean plays a large role in people’s daily lives. Yet, the country faces significant effects of climate change with devastating implications for those in the country’s fishing community.

Listen to Iqbal Shah’s story

On the outskirts of Nasinu in the central division of Viti Levu in Fiji, long time fishermen Iqbal Shah and his nephew Shahadat Ali share their passion for fishing but say it has been significantly disrupted by changing weather patterns and ocean warming.

Left to right: Shahadat Ali and Iqbal Shah stand in front of their fishing boat docked at the back of their house on Tuesday. Ali has special memories of his late father who he bonded with over their shared bonding as they share their love of fishing on this boat. Photo by Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti

Seventy-two-year-old retired fisherman Shah said, “We used to catch about 300 kg, 200 kg, in one week we used to catch 300 to 400 kg, sometimes 500 kg, but now if you fish one week, you can’t hardly get about 100kg, it is very hard.”

His 35-year-old nephew, Ali, shares the same sentiment.

“Today, going fishing is not like before,” he said. “The weather is really bad and we take a raincoat out to sea because it could rain at any moment, despite [what looks like] good weather.”

The boat bears Shahadat Ali’s family name and represents their long love for fishing. Ali took his son on it to introduce him to fishing at an early age of 2. Photo by Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
The recent tropical cyclone and the changing weather patterns have brought debris with it and changed the color of the water, making it murky and dirty. A spot that used to be clean and used for swimming, is no longer safe to swim in. Photo by Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti

The pair come from a long line of fishermen and started fishing in their teens. They both learnt to fish from their fathers and are disappointed at how the changing weather patterns are disrupting their love for fishing.

Before, I used to catch plenty of fish. Now you can see the size of the fish is small and people struggle for the fish now.

— Iqbal Shah
Shahadat Ali provided these photos that show the difference between the size of the fish 10 years ago and today. Ali blames climate change for abandoning his love of fishing to find other sustainable forms of income to support his family. Photo by Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti

Iqbal’s nephew Ali recalls how in the past, when a small fish was caught in their net, they put it back in the ocean. Today, he says, they keep any fish they catch.

“Times are hard, it’s a struggle,” he said.

As Ali took us on a tour at the back of his house, he explained how the rising sea level and weather patterns are affecting him directly.

“Maybe in another two or three years’ time, I might have to move my house up some more,” Ali said.

Shahadat Ali points towards the area underneath his house where the water reaches at high tide. Ali places cement blocks to prevent the water from reaching into his house as water continues to rise over the years due to climate change. Photo by Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
Categorized as Stories

By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti

Sera Tikotikoivatu-Sefeti is a journalism student at the University of the South Pacific, a mother of two, and a freelance journalist. Her goal is to create a ripple effect of change within her community by giving them a voice and telling their stories. She is currently a freelance writer for Islands Business Fiji: Pacific Makete and a communications intern at Fusion Hub/ BPO Council of Fiji. She enjoys reading, spending time with her family and is obsessed with K-Dramas.

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