Boosting fisher benefits through greater fisheries revenue transparency

In Madagascar, public authorities, fishers, and civil society organisations are working towards improving fisheries transparency and governance. Together, they want to ensure sustainable and fair management of stocks, and enhance the value of a sector that represents between five and seven percent of the country’s GDP, on which hundreds of thousands of small-scale fishers depend for food.

Established in 2016, the National Coalition for Environmental Advocacy (CNPE) brings together around 40 groups, including federations of community associations, local organisations and NGOs, that are committed to securing better governance of natural resources in Madagascar through advocacy. Ms. Corrine Huynh RAHOELIARISOA, National Coordinator of the CNPE, explains the recent progress in fisheries transparency in Madagascar, and what the next steps are.

Why is fisheries transparency essential for small-scale fishers?

For small-scale fishers, transparency means knowing where you are going, and having better access to information to get reliable answers to vital questions: What are the states of fish stocks, and how much can we still exploit and allocate to fishing companies? What is the impact of current exploitation patterns, and is this sustainable for fishers, especially small-scale fishers? If this information is shared transparently, the sector’s main participants can have discussions, emphasise what is at stake, call for individual responsibility, and participate in monitoring.

There are still a lack of accurate and consolidated assessments of Madagascar’s fishing stocks and their economic potential. But it is clear that marine life is under great pressure, and that coastal communities depend on fish resources for their livelihoods. This is why transparency is one of the CNPE’s priorities. At stake is the equitable and sustainable sharing of the benefits and returns from the fisheries sector.

To achieve this, transparency of information around fisheries agreements is critical 

It is important to note that transparency was lacking in the fisheries sector until the current Ministry came in and made concrete commitments. It was challenging to get information before. In 2019, the CNPE was one of the groups pointing out that many fisheries agreements were opaque, because their content, and sometimes even their existence, was unknown. The Treasury received royalty payments and did not publicise amounts. We lobbied to participate in the process of negotiating fisheries agreements, at least as an observer, and last year we won the case.

We feel that we are on the right track and hope progress will continue to have better information for small-scale fishers. When civil society organisations (CSOs) participate in negotiations, they are obliged to pass on information to their members, and to do so in a clear and accessible way. From there, small-scale fishers can know the areas, times and vessels involved in fisheries agreements and participate in coastal surveillance. They also have the information they need to negotiate and claim their rights to sectoral aid payments through these agreements,  particularly to strengthen local fishing infrastructure.

However, it remains a challenge to inform all fishers in the country, who often live in remote, isolated areas, and far from communication channels. This is why we want to work more with MIHARI, the network of Madagascar’s LMMAs. We need to further strengthen synergy between organisations.

What drives your commitment to transparency?

We want to ensure that the income from fishing benefits small-scale fishers by using information transparency.

For example, most small-scale fishers, who live far from the coast, depend on a few collectors to buy their products, so are not in strong bargaining positions. Knowing the quantity periodically exported and the income generated for each fishery (crab, sea cucumber, octopus, shrimp and more) at the national level could help establish fair guides or even minimum prices for their catches. I think this is achievable. The Ministry has already set up quotas and determined minimum prices for crab, so that collectors do not impose a price on fishers that is too low. This model could be replicated in other fisheries. But there are still big challenges regarding implementation and monitoring. If we decide on something but don’t ensure that it is implemented, it is like it doesn’t exist. 

There are not many Ministry representatives in the regions, so this is where CSOs can take over, for example, to support setting up reporting mechanisms when reference prices are not respected and to propose joint patrols that will enforce the law where necessary. The CNPE is already working with the National Fisheries Monitoring Centre to ensure the application of fisheries laws and transparency in the sector when there are breaches.

How could more transparency support these monitoring efforts?

I have never seen a comprehensive national report on fisheries infractions in Madagascar. Yet this would allow everyone to know the categories and volume of violations, welcome progress and identify gaps in the application of laws and the fishing code. Such a report would also allow for the monitoring of fines collected. And it would encourage small-scale fishers to share their information on infractions.

Small-scale fishers are mobilised to carry out community surveillance to strengthen monitoring and control, but lack the means to do so. For their patrols, they need binoculars, including night ones to see the boats, boots, GPS and phones, and money to cover their travel and communication costs to secure and report information. In remote coastal areas, sharing information by mobile phone remains the best and often only means of communication with the outside world.

What systems would make it easier to access and share information?

We suggest that Madagascar sets up a national website for sharing data on strategic resources such as fisheries. USAID, through the Hay Tao project, has recently initiated Hay Natiora, an online platform to manage environmental information related to marine and terrestrial resources for the benefit of all users. Such a website would not be accessible to all small-scale fishers, but it could at least enable CSOs to obtain and disseminate to fishers the most reliable and up-to-date information they need. The CNPE also identified the need for better accessibility of information on fisheries legislation, including practical guides and posters for communities.

A major challenge is also establishing processes for sharing information on catches and infractions by small-scale fishers. Demanding transparency without being transparent yourself is useless, and we discuss this with communities. It is essential to know the impact of small-scale fishing on the resources and on their livelihoods. Last December, in the Menabe [west coast of Madagascar], a federation of small-scale fishers told us: “Now we too must provide more transparent data”. Everyone welcomed this statement, knowing that it was right. A lot of people say it, but now we have to do it. It comes back to the question of the means of monitoring, surveillance and control. Maybe small-scale fishers need to get together more, to share reliable and solid information.

To what extent are small-scale fishers consulted and included in national fisheries governance today?

Last December, Madagascar became the third candidate country in the world for the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI). To prepare for this candidacy, the government set up consultation mechanisms with fishers and civil society at all stages of the process, which allowed for real synergy between stakeholders. The Ministry also set up a Blue Economy and Ocean Governance Cluster, which CNPE participates in as a CSO representing fishing communities in particular.

Notably, the current Minister is a technical and scientific expert in fisheries who comes from civil society which is a considerable advantage because he knows the vital need for transparency to develop the sector. Small-scale fishers tell us that they are seeing changes in fisheries governance, including being better consulted, invited to more meetings and feeling more heard. This gives them hope, even if the problem of implementing laws persists at local level, despite efforts. Now, progress in terms of transparency must  have a concrete impact on their lives and on the Malagasy population in general.

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