Fish with a Roof over their Heads

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The current fish market in Vava'u consists of coolers in the open air.
The current fish market in Vava’u consists of coolers in the open air.

The Tonga fishers of Vava’u have recently come together to form a fishing association.  As part of this effort, the fisheries department in Tonga agreed to give the fishing organization a building next to the government fisheries office. And this week we were invited to tour the facility and attend the official hand-over. Inside, the building contains a large freezer with an ice machine, space that the fishermen can use to sell their catch, and a laboratory-like room that can be used to conduct research on the fish that they bring back.

Up until now these Tonga fishers have been using coolers with water to keep fish fresh while at sea. When they come back to shore they off load the coolers onto the dock and buyers can approach each cooler to look inside and then buy the fish. A small blue awning completes the ‘fish market’ and offers some protection from the sun.

The Crown Prince of Tonga.
The Crown Prince of Tonga.

So the new building means that fishers can easily obtain ice to keep their catch fresh while they are out fishing, and provides them with a covered and enclosed, air conditioned space to sell their catch.  This will allow the fish to stay fresh for longer and will keep flies and other bugs away.  In addition, the freezer means that fishers can save any fish that are not sold during the day and keep it fresh to try selling it again the following day. This all adds up to a substantial improvement in the ‘fish market’ conditions.

The hand-over of the building is a very formal and important event for the fishing community in Vava’u and as such, we were grateful to be invited to the official ceremony. The event was well attended by a number of high ranking government officials, which included the crowned prince of Tonga.

Silika Ngahe, the officer in charge of fisheries for Vava'u, celebrates the hand over with food and fellowship after the event.
Silika Ngahe, the officer in charge of fisheries for Vava’u, celebrates the hand over with food and fellowship after the event.

The country of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, and therefore, the government has traditionally been structured around the royal family where the King serves as the Head of State.  Due to political reform, only recently starting in 2010, has the prime minister and parliament members been elected by popular vote.  Previously, all seats were appointed by the King.  Despite these changes, Tongan society is still very traditional with the role of the monarchy, and the hierarchy of power and rank among residents being important.

At the end of the event, traditional Tongan food was served and we were invited to share in a meal and socialize with the fishers and government officials.  We were honored to be invited to participate in such an important event to the community.

Photos by Stefan Andrews.

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