Qoliqoli in Fiji

Last month a Customary Fishing Rights Bill was introduced in Fiji's parliament to restore traditional fishing rights or qoliqoli to the Fijian clans. At present, these rights are owned by the state and everyone is supposed to have free access to Fiji's beaches and reefs. Yet some clans have already seized control of reefs owned by their villages before Fiji became a British colony in 1874. In a few places, tourism operators have had to pay royalties to the clans before their clients would be allowed to surf or scuba dive in the clan's traditional qoliqoli area.

Now Fiji's ruling SDL Party wants to extend the qoliqoli system to the whole of Fiji, and resort owners are in shock. The Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association has argued strongly against the bill and warned that some of its members may be forced to close if qoliqoli becomes law. There's no question that if passed, the bill will cause prices to increase as resort owners pass the cost of paying qoliqoli royalties along to consumers. Independent travelers may have to start paying fees to local villagers to snorkel, scuba dive, surf, fish, or do anything else in the water.

It remains to be seen if Fiji's pro-indigenous politicians will calculate that the political advantages to be gained from the Customary Fishing Rights Bill outweight the damage it will inevitably do to the country's tourism industry. But anyone considering investing in a resort or water-related business in Fiji should be on guard.

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