Some letter writers have had some harsh words to say about the slaughter of the turtles particularly with Fiji having its own moratorium on turtle slaughter.
But like all laws there are exceptions and exemptions and not everyone can police them 24 hours in every inch of the sea.
Director of Fisheries Sanaila Naqali spoke to The Fiji Times about the issue and the interim Government's stand and involvement in the issue.
TIMES: Could you outline for our readers the main functions of the department?
Naqali: The Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests is mandated to manage marine resources.
In order to achieve this goal the department has embarked on a number of activities aimed at ensuring that fish stocks are conserved and managed effectively so that our future generations also enjoy what our current generations are enjoying.
One notable feature of our activities over the last few years has been promotion and establishment of marine protected areas in a number of locations in Fiji and these marine protected areas or taboo areas are already bearing fruits.
There had been reports of increasing population of fish and other marine organisms including turtles populating these marine protected areas.
TIMES: So when were laws introduced to protect turtles in Fiji?
NAQALI: The first moratorium on sea turtles was introduced in 1995 and Fiji was the first country in the South Pacific to introduce a moratorium that year and declared that year as the year of Sea Turtles.
It was further continued in 1996 for five years until 2000 and extended to 2004 when it was reviewed and extended until today.
Basically the moratorium has been placed in Fiji for the last 12 years since 1995.
The current fisheries (protection of turtles) regulation which came into effect on February 6, 2004 will expire on December 31, 2008 and the moratorium prohibits the following:
The molesting, taking or killing of any species of turtles;
Selling offering, or the exposure for sale or export any turtle shell or flesh; and
The digging up, use, take or destruction of turtle eggs of any species.
The policy is quite clear that the sale of turtle meat is forbidden.
Even just offering for sale or exposing meat for sale and exporting flesh or turtle shell is forbidden.
The sale of turtle meat and export of turtle shells has been one of the causes of decline in turtles in Fiji and the moratorium on the sales of meat has been forbidden over the last 12 years. This has assisted in the preservation and effective conservation of the turtle stocks.
However, the spirit of the regulation allows exemptions for the use of turtle meat during a soqo vakavanua and other cultural and traditional gatherings.
This piece of legislation is quite clear it is only the minister who is empowered under this regulation to allow any person to be exempted.
But the person has to request this exemption by writing to the minister.
The administrative process involves an assessment by the senior officials of the fisheries department regarding the request and they submit their recommendation to the minister for his approval. The minister then issues an exemption.
Times: So what happened in Macuata?
Naqali: The ministry only received two requests from villages in Nadogo district.
The requests were approved after the ministry had made its assessment but were reduced from 12 to five.
Both these requests had the support of the Macuata Provincial Council and the exemption approvals were relayed back to the applicants.
There was also a blanket request from the Macuata Provincial Council for a blanket approval for the whole of Macuata.
This was not approved and the ministry's assessment of this request was that each vanua submit separate requests so they could be dealt individually on a one on one basis.
We confirm that the department only received two requests from the tikina of Nadogo which were approved and there were no other requests from the other villages or tikina in Macuata.
It was clear there were some communication problem between the Fisheries Department and the provincial council to allow for each vanua and other tikina to submit their request.
This is a challenge now for the ministry to ensure such gaps in communication are not repeated in future and the ministry will carry out an internal assessment to further ascertain this and try to improve.
The ministry also wishes to note that we had sent two research officers to the Northern Division to collect and record data.
They took measurements of the shell its curve length, and standard curved length and width of the turtles caught during the period.
They were also tasked to do other research work to coincide with the opening of the taboo areas as part of research work.
The preliminary finding showed two species Vonudina (Green turtle) and Taku (Hawksbill turtle).
In their assessment they found 84 turtles were caught from North Eastern Vanua Levu from Udu Point, Lakeba in Namuka, Nabavatu in Dreketi, Cikobia, Kia, Navakasobu, Nasea-Raviravi and Mali Island.
Times: What species of turtles are common in Fiji?
Naqali: The four species in abundance in Fiji include the Green turtle (Vonu Dina) Hawksbill turtle (Taku), Loggerhead turtle (Tuvonu or guru) and the Leatherback turtle (Tutuwalu or Dakulaca).
In 2000 the fisheries department estimated that the population of each of the sea turtle stocks found in Fiji waters were about 8000-12,000.
Green turtles or Vonu dina of all age groups was estimated at around 4000 to 6000.
Times: So what is the greatest threat to turtles?
Naqali: The Fisheries Department has also noted that the greatest threat to sea turtles is not traditional or subsistence but the commercial harvest for their meat.
In the case of Macuata, the issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.
The ministry maintains that the 84 turtles harvested during the church conference is not a threat compared to those turtles kills each year commercially which run into the hundreds of thousands in the Pacific.
The policies were formulated to support turtle protection and management with the low staff numbers it will always be a challenge for the department to monitor and enforce the laws. Approvals had been granted to one tikina while the other tikina had gone through the provincial office.
The department maintains there has been an oversight in the area of communication between the two organisations.
This is an area we are addressing and will improve as we train community leaders and villagers not only in Macuata but throughout the nation.
Adapted from Fijtimes Online