Villagers were in for a surprise when a delicacy they only heard of from their elders suddenly appeared in their fishing ground after 60 years.
The long lost "ita" (kuita) or octopus' reemergence is the result of the setting aside of a tabu (prohibited fishing) area in their i qoliqoli.
Not only did they find a few but as many as three to four for each person a day to take home, said Korolevu Yaubula chairman Apolosi Silaca with a big smile on his face. The vanua o Korolevu is in the district of Navatu, Cakaudrove, Vanua Levu.
"This lasted for four days and we were all excited because we had never seen them in our i qoliqoli before. Many of us did not even know how to catch them and would not even recognise them because they had never been caught in our qoliqoli," he said.
Mosese Joji, 74, who used to reminisce the good old days when their mothers used to bring in octopus has been able to taste one from his qoliqoli after 60 years.
He thought he would never taste it again and it has been like a dream come true for him.
Just a year after the tabu was in place the return of the octopus had been seen by a Peace Corp volunteer who was working with the villagers, said Silaca.
"It was funny when she mentioned it to us we really did not take it seriously because we had never seen any in our qoliqoli before. Even if we had seen it we would not know what it was."
Silaca who has been the backbone in the initiation of the marine protected area said closing off an area as a "no take zone" formerly accessible to people, was a big challenge for the qoliqoli committee.
"Many of our people didn't like it because that was where they had been fishing from for so many years and even after explanations about the reason for the tabu it did not satisfy them.
" A few of them poached from the tabu area at times because they said it was their i qoliqoli and they could do anything they wanted," he said.
However, the return of the octopus, he said, was the "biggest success story" for those who had supported the setting up of the tabu area.
"I am glad that they can see with their own eyes the benefit of having a tabu area in a qoliqoli. I believe that what they saw, caught and tasted will have an impact on the importance of having a tabu and will also change their mind on trying to poach in it," said Silaca.
Furthermore, fish that had declined in numbers are now returning to the i qoliqoli and through the setting up of the tabu.
"Fish that had been in abundance like Ta (surgeon fish) had disappeared but now we are seeing them again.
"We also have more Kanace (mullet) and I believe that was the result of the spillover from our tabu area," said Silaca enthusiastically, unable to contain his excitement.
"But some who cannot wait for the spillover go out at night to steal from the tabu. When we find out we approach them personally and ask them to stop. This is because we do not have any by-laws in our village to stop them."
(Spillover is a term used to describe the movement of fish from the tabu area into non-tabu because they are overcrowded. Fish and other marine resources, like human beings, move out of their territory when they are overcrowded. They come out into the non-tabu area and can be caught by villagers. For some people a tabu area is a like a bank where you put in your money and get interest.)
The Korolevu fishing ground belongs to the three villages of Navakaka, Korosi, Korolevu and two settlements, Wainivula and Drano.
Increase in population has resulted in overfishing in most coastal villages like the vanua o Korolevu. Poaching has been the biggest threat to their i qoliqoli and an issue that has always surfaced from every tabu area in Fiji.
Silaca said another threat was the overuse of weedicide and other chemicals for agricultural purposes.
Fertilisers brought in for dalo commercial farmers was also affecting their i qoliqoli because it washed into the sea and encouraged seaweed or sargassum growth.
Such seaweed or algae is brown in colour and covers the coral and kills it.
Coral is composed of colonies of tiny animals and like plants, needs sunlight for the process of photosynthesis to take place. Farming practices in the area are an issue also because people do not leave a buffer zone near rivers to protect the river banks from soil erosion.
People should leave a 30m area between the river bank and where they plant their crops as a buffer zone.
The Korolevu Yaubula committee has been raising awareness and asking the villagers to protect their marine resource.
They now have some laws which they have put together.
These are printed on posters and put up in the village halls and other places and in homes.
These include bans on leaving fishing nets in the qoliqoli overnight, gutting sea cucumbers on the reefs, use of duva or poisonous vine; small meshed nets, spear fishing at night, use of compressor or gas tanks, and throwing rubbish into the sea.
They also require the proper use of agricultural chemicals, and a limit on the issue of fishing licences.
Lastly, what they want is to achieve protection of their yaubula, or marine resources, so that there will be more fish and other marine resources for future generations.
60 years on - Fiji Times Online