In Fiji, a coastal area belonging to certain community or clan is called a qoliqoli (pronounced ‘go-lee go-lee’). Qoliqolis are traditionally-owned fishing grounds that are passed down from generation to generation. Traditionally, when the chief of a village dies, a portion of the community’s fishing ground is set aside as no-take, or tabu (pronounced ‘tam-boo’) area as a token of respect for the chief. After 100 days, the area is re-opened and the community harvests fish to hold a feast to end the mourning. The supernatural power of the chief is usually measured by the abundance and size of the catch.
This type of temporary tabu typically results in increased harvest at the end of the closed period. However, to maximize the beneficial effects of a tabu area, recent studies indicate that longer or permanently closed areas are best. LMMA work in Fiji focuses on reviving this traditional practice with tested variations in length of closure time needed to allow for spillover and seeding effects. For example, monitoring in some communities’ fishing grounds that have opened their tabu areas for short periods of time has found that short-term benefits of an increased harvest are less than the seeding and spillover benefits of long-term closure.
Today, tabu areas in Fiji are being set up with the joint agreement of the chiefs and the people, unlike in the old days when a chief dies. The tabu applies only to a portion of the fishing ground (about 10-20%), leaving the rest for community members to harvest for their consumption or livelihood, with the objective of enhancing the productivity of the open harvest areas. The tabu imposed after the death of a chief now serves to reinforce the modern tabu area. The creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) or reserves – modern versions of the tabu system – has followed the traditional rites, with formal declaration and ceremonies performed, traditional marking of the closed area, and notification of neighboring users.