More than 1 billion people throughout the world rely on fish as a source of protein, and small-scale fisheries support the livelihoods of at least 500 million people worldwide. However, marine ecosystems and traditional coastal livelihoods are facing unprecedented pressures from overfishing and climate change.
Experience shows that marine conservation works best when local communities are engaged in fisheries management, particularly in low-income countries where national capacity for enforcement of legislation may be weak. We support coastal communities to develop rights-based management plans designed to sustain local fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity.
Periodic, short-term fishery closures targeting key species during periods of rapid growth in their life cycles can boost productivity, resulting in bigger catches and greater income for fishers. In Madagascar, this model has gone viral among coastal communities and inspired a grassroots revolution in marine resource management.
Octopus fisheries provide a vital source of income for coastal communities throughout much of the Western Indian Ocean, with the majority of catches sold and exported to overseas markets, predominantly in Europe. In response to growing signs of overexploitation of stocks throughout this region, there has been a proliferation of efforts to improve the sustainability of octopus fisheries over the past decade.
First piloted in southern Madagascar in 2004, the short-term octopus fishery reserve model involves regular closures of around a quarter of a community’s gleaning grounds for 2-4 months. This approach has been shown to lead to significant increases in octopus landings and fisher incomes during the month after temporary reserves are opened.
Periodic short-term octopus fishery closures have since been replicated more than 150 times along the country’s southern, western and northern coastlines. The approach benefits from broad support from the entire seafood supply chain, with fishers and buyers now contributing to the modest costs of establishing and managing the temporary reserves.
The success of this model has also influenced national fisheries policy, leading to new national laws in Madagascar, and the Mauritian island of Rodrigues introducing minimum octopus catch sizes and annual closure periods to protect spawning stock.
Octopus gleaning is particularly important for women in southwest Madagascar, yet they are rarely involved in management meetings and formal decision-making processes.
We are supporting local women’s associations to address their training needs and become more active in fisheries management. Representatives from these forums are being incorporated into village-level committees to ensure that gender-specific challenges are taken into account, for example, arranging opening days to coincide with the lowest spring tides so that women can fully participate (they typically glean on foot while men may dive from boats), and conducting meetings at times convenient for women to attend.
These women’s groups also provide an ideal setting for discussing community health and reproductive rights issues as part of our integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach.
Adoption of this approach to local management continues to grow each year in Madagascar and the broader western Indian Ocean region. The model has been adapted to other small-scale invertebrate fisheries, including mangrove crab in western Madagascar and spiny lobster on the southeast coast.
Following the success of fisheries management experiences from Madagascar and Mauritius over the past decade, there is now growing interest among communities, NGOs and fisheries partners to replicate this model throughout the region including Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya, Mozambique and Mayotte.
Temporary fishery closures are a powerful management tool that can rapidly demonstrate the economic benefits of management both to coastal communities and seafood buyers, building support for broader and more ambitious marine conservation efforts.
In southwest Madagascar, these fishery closures have inspired local leadership for marine conservation and provided a catalyst for the creation of permanent reserves, resulting in the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) by numerous coastal communities.
Growing consumer awareness of the importance of buying responsibly harvested seafood provides an opportunity for communities to earn a price premium for their sustainable fisheries management efforts.
The southwest Madagascar octopus fishery has undergone a pre-assessment for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification and is currently implementing a fisheries improvement plan to reach the standards that required to apply for full certification as a sustainable fishery.
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