Overcoming the conservation commitment conundrum

Marine conservation efforts often fail when short-term costs are perceived to outweigh future benefits, which may be uncertain. All too often, forgoing fishing in protected areas represents a severe economic sacrifice for coastal communities, and the promised ‘spill­-over’ benefits of marine protection can be slow to accrue. As a result, conservation goals are often at loggerheads with local needs, disenfranchising traditional resource users.

Reconciling the interests of the conservation and fishing sectors requires new approaches that overcome the opportunity costs of surrendering fishing in a protected area, in timeframes that work for communities. Our models work by demonstrating that fisheries management can yield meaningful economic benefits for communities and seafood buyers, in realistic timescales. Only by making this connection can marine conservation be sustained and scaled beyond its current limited scope.

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. 90% of global fish stocks are either overfished or fully fished.

Experience from around the world shows that managing fisheries and marine resources works best when responsibility is placed in the hands of local communities. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where there is often limited central capacity and infrastructure for fisheries management and conservation.

We empower coastal communities to manage their own resources, developing rights-based fisheries management plans aiming to sustain local fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity.


million people worldwide depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods


of global fish stocks are either overfished or fully fished


temporary octopus and crab fishery closures held in Madagascar to date


average increase in octopus caught per fisher per day during the month following a closure

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Temporary fishery reserves

Effective fishery management measures don’t always have to be large-scale or long-term. Periodic, short-term fishery closures targeted at key species during periods of rapid growth in their life cycles can boost productivity, resulting in bigger catches and bigger incomes for fishers.

Octopus fisheries are a vitally important 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 overexploitation of octopus throughout this region, the past decade has seen a groundswell of grassroots management efforts. First piloted in southern Madagascar in 2004, the periodic octopus fishery closure model involves short-term closures of a village’s octopus gleaning grounds. At any given time, up to a quarter of a community’s fishing area may be closed for around three months. This approach has been shown to result in dramatic increases in octopus landings and fisher incomes in the month after closed areas are reopened to fishing (Oliver et al, 2015).

In Madagascar this model has gone viral, inspiring a grassroots revolution in fisheries management which has seen more than 250 closures along the country’s southern, western and northern coastlines to date. The approach benefits from broad support from the entire seafood supply chain, with fishers and buyers at pilot sites now contributing to the modest costs of establishing and managing the closures.

This model has inspired new fisheries policy in Madagascar, and has been replicated by the neighbouring Mauritian island of Rodrigues annually since 2012, and by communities on the Tanzanian island of Pemba in 2015.

From reefs to mangroves and beyond

Adoption of this locally led approach to fisheries management continues to grow each year in Madagascar and beyond. 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, we are now working to support communities, NGOs and fisheries partners to replicate this model throughout the region including in Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and the Comoros.

Catalysing conservation

Temporary fishery closures are a powerful management tool that can demonstrate the economic benefits of fisheries management rapidly, to fishers and seafood buyers alike. By producing tangible benefits to coastal communities, this approach can build robust support for broader marine management initiatives.

Importantly, these closures have provided the catalyst for encouraging community engagement in ambitious marine conservation efforts, including the creation of permanent marine reserves, now established at a number of sites by communities in parallel with temporary fishery closures within locally managed marine areas (LMMAs).

Discover our other fisheries work


A new market to drive the targeted removal of invasive lionfish in Belize

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, were accidentally released into the Atlantic in the 1980s and first documented in Belizean waters in 2008. With an extremely high rate of reproduction and no native predators in the Caribbean, the species poses a serious threat to the region’s reefs, given its voracious appetite for juvenile fish and invertebrates.

Since 2011, Blue Ventures has pioneered efforts to commercialise Belize’s nascent lionfishery by working with fishers, consumers, restaurants, fishing cooperatives and seafood distributors.

Our fisheries partners

Towards eco-certification

Growing consumer awareness of the importance of buying responsibly harvested seafood provides communities with an opportunity to earn a price premium for management of their fisheries.

The octopus fishery in southwest Madagascar has undergone a pre-assessment for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification and is currently implementing a fisheries improvement plan to reach the standards required to undertake full assessment as an MSC-certified sustainable fishery.

Championing fairer fishing

We work on behalf of traditional fishing communities to promote a rights-based approach to fisheries management. We advocate for fairer, healthier and more sustainable fisheries, to benefit marine life and the hundreds of millions of coastal people that depend on fishing.

Our research has demonstrated the critical role that small-scale fisheries play in underpinning the livelihoods and food security of some of the world’s poorest communities (Barnes-Mauthe et al, 2013). Our analyses of EU fisheries agreements in the Indian Ocean have drawn global attention to the need for a more equitable basis for north-south industrial fisheries agreements (Le Manach et al, 2012).

We are working with the MSC to help small-scale fishery managers in the developing world introduce fisheries improvement projects, bringing market incentives for sustainable fishing to some of the hardest to reach coastal communities. We are also working with the Sea Around Us project to help governments develop strategies to improve awareness of the importance of small-scale fisheries.


Harnessing mobile technology to improve small-scale fisheries management

We’re using mobile technology to address the challenge of data-deficiency in small-scale fisheries, capitalising on the rapid expansion of mobile technology and connectivity in low-income nations.

Using open access software, freely available to all, our research teams have developed smartphone- and tablet-based fisheries monitoring forms, to capture landings information in remote villages along Madagascar’s west coast. We work closely with community members to design forms that are suitable for use by those with low levels of literacy, or limited previous experience with touchscreens, or even mobile phones.

By empowering communities for fisheries monitoring in this way, this approach can capture data across vast distances, at low cost, and in real time. Where necessary, solar chargers enable community surveyors to gather data in the most remote ‘off grid’ environments, and the devices used can capture and store data in areas without mobile data coverage, before automatically syncing with the cloud as soon as a user accesses the nearest signal.

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Meet our fisheries team

Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager
Toliara, Madagascar
Sustainable Fisheries Programme Assistant
Toliara, Madagascar
Octopus Fisheries Scientist
Toliara, Madagascar
Community Liaison Officer
Toliara, Madagascar
Data Management Officer
Toliara, Madagascar
Mobile Data Collection Project Coordinator
Andavadoaka, Madagascar
Shark and Turtle Research Assistant
Andavadoaka, Madagascar

Latest blogs

Latest news


The Telegraph: Fishing aid need not be all at sea

Our recent PLOS one paper has been featured in this Telegraph article exploring issues of development aid funding and the success of long term, locally led, fisheries management.

Forbes: Fisheries Management Generates Market-Beating Returns

Our Dr Garth Cripp's writes for Ashoka on Forbes.com on the findings of our recent PLOS ONE paper showing that marine management pays for local fishers in Southwest Madagascar.

Mongabay: Periodic closure of fishing grounds boosts octopuses and helps coastal communities

The findings of our PLOS ONE paper were highlighted with stunning photos in an article on Mongabay.

Local communities reap dividends from managing octopus fisheries

A landmark study from the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar highlights the compelling economic benefits of local fisheries management and their role in catalysing community engagement in broader marine management efforts.

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