Milkfish has been a successful food industry in Asian countries like Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The Government of Fiji had wanted to develop a similar industry, and so enlisted the help of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. The South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project (Phase II) devised this survey to ascertain the extent of the milkfish stocks in Fiji waters, and further to investigate the possibility of milkfish farming in Fiji. Such farms have already been established in Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu, and it was thought that milkfish farms would be not only a good source of protein for human diets and an alternative to depleting fish from the sea (and thus a way to ameliorate an environmental pressure), but also a source of income for villages and farmers as tuna bait as well.
It is easier to collect milkfish fry from the wild than eggs, though the success of the collection still depends on natural availability, weather, season, and tides. Although the peak fry season occurs at different times of the year in different places; in Fiji, it was generally between September and February. This survey spanned six months, but it is hoped that the survey will be continued by Fisheries staff, so that a full year's data could be collected.
The purpose of the survey was first, to locate sites of potential fry collection; second, to perform trial collections; and third, to teach Fisheries staff how to find sites, catch, transport, and store the fry, and to farm them into a salable fish product, so they could pass these skills on to local farmers.
Several sites were found in beach, river mouth and mangrove areas on Viti Levu at Nasese, Sigatoka and Deuba river mouths, and Tokotoko. On Vanua Levu, Nakalou Village, Lekuto, and Dreketi were potential sites for both fry and fingerling.
Materials to construct collecting gear were difficult to acquire in Fiji, so only small skimming nets and one barrier net were used in the survey. Other types of gear, pictured in the Figures of this report, may prove useful, provided construction materials become available. Villagers must become involved in the collection and farming processes, as they stand to benefit from them. Furthermore, farmed milkfish, once people are convinced to use it as a source of food, would relieve the pressure on depleting fish stocks around the islands. As tuna bait, milkfish would be a source of income for the farmers.
There are many sites suitable to develop milkfish farms in Fiji, such as unused rice paddies, salt or prawn farms, or swamps and marshlands. Farmers need to acquire skills in preparing the ponds for stocking by draining, drying, leveling, and liming or poisoning for unwanted animals (where necessary). Also, dykes and water gates must be constructed and farmers must learn to feed the ponds to grow benthic algae (brackishwater ponds), and plankton (freshwater ponds). The design of the farms must take into account that milkfish swim against the current, so the catching ponds will be placed to concentrate fish from the grow-out ponds for easy harvesting.
Farmers must also learn to store and transport the fish. Fish must be gradually adjusted to ponds' temperature, salinity, acidity, turbidity and ammonia or hydrogen sulfide content. Pond water must be managed to keep these factors balanced and to keep food for the fish growing.
Generally, the survey indicated that there are milkfish available in Fiji waters to start a food and tuna bait industry. Government agencies, like the Fisheries Department, will have a role to play in educating villagers to collect fry at sites where commercial collections are possible, and the Government could concentrate on developing farms for producing tuna bait or food.