A few weeks ago, a friend called and ask whether I would be keen to participate in an art project which was curated by him. Without knowing too much detail, I was keen to join as currently times are pretty difficult in Fiji and a change of scenery and a new task was very welcome. We met up at his place located right at Suva’s waterfront and headed out to look for a group of fishers. We had a little small talk and eventually ended up documenting their fishing efforts right on Suva’s foreshore. Although the project ended up differently than originally thought, and these images won’t be a part of it, I nevertheless wanted to share them as a photo essay.
Although subsistence fishers are a relatively common sight along the Suva foreshore, the number has increased over the last months. COVID has hit Fiji and cases are still rising. When I wrote my last post, the country had about 700 active cases, now we are at almost double that number. Strict curfews (6 pm-4 am), several targeted lockdowns of certain areas in Suva, and the closing of many businesses led to very difficult situations in many families. Increasingly, people complain about a lack of food and no possibilities to earn money to feed their families. Thus, many who are in the “right” containment zones and have access to the ocean, try to catch fish using a variety of methods. Some use handlines, some use nets. And the other day I even saw some people heading out with spearguns.
The group that we accompanied used a common technique here: encircling a body of water as wide as teh net allows, then chasing as many fish as possible into teh net, while slowly closing the net into a circle. The analogy in industrial fishing is teh massive purse seiners that use the same concept of encircling fish swarms and closing the net (=purse) to scoop out as much fish as possible. Worth mentioning here, that this can be a sustainable fishing method, but inherently causes a lot of bycatch which is a problem on industrial scales.
Wading into chest-deep waters during low tide, I photographed due net hauls and the only catch of the group was a single crab. Nevertheless, everybody involved seemed to have a lot of fun and the two hours were filled with lots of laughter. I hope they ended up with a bigger catch at the end of the day. Either way, all of us need to stay positive, adhere to safety guidelines, and we will overcome the pandemic!
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.