Since I joined WWF-New Zealand as CEO six months ago, I’ve been learning a great deal. I came from a marketing background, and this new foray into the amazing world of conservation is mind blowing. I feel like am now seeing the world as it truly is.
The changes we are facing as a human race due to our own impact on this beautiful planet feel scary, and yet being around people who are making real changes with vision, innovation and energy, makes me realise there is real hope for all humans yet!
I recently spent four days in Fiji working with our WWF-Pacific office, wrapping up a three-year pilot project that gets locally-caught fish from ocean to plate.
If you want to see the real Fiji, you need to travel beyond the city centres into the smaller communities. My impressions of Fiji: warm hearts, smiles, and families – and yet it’s tough. Tough to get money to feed families, to send children to school, and to make a living. There is also hope in the communities, and a desire to make life – and Fiji – better.
The ocean has been central to life in Fiji for hundreds of years but fishing can have an adverse impact on the marine environment and fishers often don’t get a decent price for the fish they catch.
The WWF-Pacific project empowers local communities to catch reef fish in a more responsible way, and then supply these to the restaurant and hotel trade – helping Fijians make a living. The project gets local women involved in business initiatives to sell the fish, helping them support themselves and their villages.
The hotels then cook amazing Fijian dishes using quality local fish to meet the demand of the tourist, giving customers a taste of real local produce, which helps boost the economy. A win-win all around.
This project has really started to take shape, but there have been plenty of challenges along the way! Here are some of the more interesting ones we came up against – and how we overcame them.
A return to traditional techniques: Local communities mainly catch fish using a harpoon. This destroys the fish and makes it unacceptable for use by hotels. WWF worked with local communities to support them to start line fishing again – a return to traditional fishing techniques.
Chefs were trained to cook local fish: Many chefs in Fijian hotels don’t know how to cook local fish, as hotels are importing fish from around the world. Leading culinary school Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand trained chefs to prepare and cook fish using local produce and culturally sensitive recipes. These recipes were developed by Le Cordon Bleu Ambassador Robert Oliver, chef, author and TV presenter.
Local women were supported to set up businesses: There were no small enterprises capable of taking this idea on in villages. WWF worked with communities, especially with the women in those villages, to teach them how to build and run small businesses. Many villages have made money from this work, helping improve the quality of life of Fijian people.
Knowledge on keeping fish fresh is increasing: It’s clear from a walk around the local markets that there is a lack of know-how in keeping fish fresh. Fish are left heaped on the ground with no ice. This is where the WWF-Pacific project comes in – teaching those who fish how to look after the fish once caught. There are now restauranteurs and hoteliers striving to get the council to supply ice-making facilities at the markets.
Any new project like this takes great people coming together and overcoming obstacles to make it all happen. This project is no different and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT); Le Cordon Bleu, including its ambassador Robert Oliver; the team at WWF-New Zealand and the team at WWF-Pacific who worked tirelessly on the ground with communities.
It all starts with quality. If people like you and me, when visiting Fiji or other Pacific destinations, asked for locally-caught fish from communities, the system would change for the better. Better fish and better livelihoods – the ultimate vision of people living in harmony with nature.
After five busy but wonderful days in beautiful Fiji, it was time for me to head home. One final impression that has kept me feeling warm and smiling well into the cold Wellington spring was this: it’s so amazing to see what’s possible when local Fijian communities, industry, and WWF work together.
Livia Esterhazy is the Chief Executive Officer of WWF-New Zealand.