Despite the attention of Fiji’s lawmakers, up until 2014 the humphead wrasse has not received full legal protection from being killed or captured in Fiji waters.
In this bulletin we briefly explore the legal protection that has been provided to the humphead wrasse and set out how the introduction of the Offshore Fisheries Management Decree and Regulations is a “game changer” for all fish species listed in Appendix I and II of CITES.
The humphead wrasse, scientific name Chilinus Undulatus and Fijian name Varivoce, is a slow growing and extraordinary fish which is highly valued in the live fish trade. For more information on the humphead wrasse, please click WWF's link or FAO's circular on the monitoring and management of humphead wrasse by Bob Gillett.
The humphead wrasse was added to the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species in 1996. While this acknowledged the precarious state of humphead wrasse stocks, it provided no legal protection against catching or killing humphead wrasse in Fiji.
The Endangered and Protected Species Act, 2002, which came into force on 9 May 2003, included humphead wrasse (amongst other species of fish indigenous to Fiji) in Schedule 2 to the Act. The effect of this inclusion in the Endangered and Protected Species Act regulated the international and domestic trade, possession and transportation of humphead wrasse in Fiji. In practical terms it was still possible to export humphead wrasse but to do so required an export permit and registration of the Trader pursuant to this Act.
In 2004, the humphead wrasse was added to Appendix II to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), after the Fiji delegation proposed its inclusion. While this inclusion in CITES was significant in terms of regulating the international trade of humphead wrasse, it reinforced, but did not materially alter, the protection of humphead wrasse in Fiji pursuant to the Endangered and Protected Species Act.
On 31 August, 2004, by Legal Notice No. 781, the then Minister for Fisheries made a Fisheries Regulation pursuant to powers in section 9 of the Fisheries Act, Cap 158 that made it illegal to take or capture a humphead wrasse or offer for sale a humphead wrasse or any part of a humphead wrasse for commercial purposes.
Any breach of this Regulation was an offence under section 10 of the Fisheries Act, Cap 158 and any person who breached it could receive a penalty of up to $500 or 3 months imprisonment, or both.
However, under this Regulation it was possible to apply in writing to the Minister for an exemption, and the Regulation was time limited, coming into force on 30 September 2004, and expiring on 31 December 2014.
Despite the above protections afforded by CITES and Fiji legislation, capturing or killing humphead wrasse for consumption purposes remained legal.
But, in 2012, Fiji enacted the Offshore Fisheries Management Decree (Decree number 78 of 2012), and on 23 May 2014, the Offshore Fisheries Regulations 2014 (Legal Notice No. 18) were made by the Honourable Minister pursuant to powers provided by section 104 of the Offshore Fisheries Management Decree. These Offshore Fisheries Regulations were published in Fiji’s government Gazette on 6 June 2014 and became law from this date.
Schedule 2B to the Offshore Fisheries Management Regulations 2014 defines Endangered and Protected Species as including all seabirds and “Any fish species covered under appendix I and II of Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”
Regulation 5 of the Offshore Fisheries Regulations 2014 provides that it is an offence for any person to “kill, take, land, sell or offer or expose for sale, deal in, transport, receive or possess any endangered or protected fish listed in Schedule 2B.”
This prohibition includes humphead wrasse and it means from 6 June 2014 humphead wrasse are fully protected for the first time under Fiji law from being killed or captured anywhere in Fiji Fisheries waters. The Offshore Fisheries Management Decree defines Fiji fisheries waters to include all internal and archipelagic waters, territorial sea and the EEZ.
The penalty for contravening this section is provided by Regulation 56 and includes a fine of up to FJ$50,000 for a natural person and up to FJ$100,000 for a corporation. Schedule 11 to the Offshore Fisheries Regulations also provides that a fixed penalty notice can be applied for this offence and this can attract a fine of $10,000 for a natural person and $20,000 for a corporation or other entity.
While this bulletin has focused on humphead wrasse, the effect of the Offshore Fisheries Regulations 2014 also means that all species covered under appendix I and II of CITES are protected by Fiji law from being captured or killed in Fiji fisheries waters.
This legal bulletin is provided for general information purposes only and it is not, and should not be relied on as, legal advice.