Caption:Fishermen and fish vendors discuss at the workshop. Photo: SUPPLIED.
Fishermen waste as much as a quarter of catch to poor handling practices, says Dr Jimaima Lako, a food scientist from the University of the South Pacific.
According to Dr Lako, other poor handling problems compounding the issue include lack of hygienic practices, non-gutting of fish and rough handling. Fishermen lose out on high prices and opportunity of connecting to big markets such as hotels because of the poor quality of fish resulting in income reduction.
She encouraged fishermen of Sasa, Mali and Macuata districts in Macuata province to apply good fish handling practices at a WWF-Pacific coordinated, Post-Harvest Fish Handling Workshop that opened at Nabukadogo village yesterday.
“Keep the temperature of the fish low as possible once it is caught, which means use ice always, wrapped around the fish, and stuffed in the fish as best as possible to maintain its quality,” she said.
“Many fishermen don’t even use ice and the problem is worsened by the humid conditions we experience in Fiji which is optimum breeding grounds for bacteria, which can rapidly multiply from just one bacterial cell to 16 million in just eight hours,” she emphasised.
To attract premium markets, quality is critical and to maintain the optimum conditions of fish caught ice is necessary. She said even the quality of ice must be checked to ensure clean water is used in manufacture.
“We already have markets out there but the markets are scared because they are not comfortable and confident in getting fish from unrecognized communities that have not been registered as having safe handling practices and resulting possibility of fish poisoning,” Dr Lako said.
Although participants recognise the importance of ice, one fishermen present, Epi Bolawaqatabu of Kia island, said it is often difficult for them to access ice.
“It’s very hard to take ice out to sea because it melts and if we take large containers out it’s heavy and eats into our fuel so we mostly just cover it up and rush with it to Labasa town,” he said.
However, Dr Lako said where ice is not available, time is of the essence.
“They need to sell fish as quickly as possible to fetch high prices or must adopt other fish preservation techniques like curing,” she said.
The workshop is an activity of WWF-Pacific’s New Zealand Government funded Sustainable Seafood Project. Project Manager Francis Areki said the three-day workshop is an extension to conservation work currently being carried out with these communities.
“This is going to be a series of trainings to improve post-harvest handling in our project site right to having discussions with markets. Markets want seafood quality and a consistent supply and we are preparing our communities for such a time,” he said.
“As they improve their fish prices with good handling practices, they will reduce the pressure on fishing because they are earning more from the same sizes of catch. WWF is emphasising that you don’t have to necessarily fish harder, just smarter,” he added.
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