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.
Marine management pays. This is the striking conclusion of a new study evaluating an initiative by coastal communities in Madagascar to manage octopus fisheries.
Marine scientists from Blue Ventures Conservation studied octopus landings in the remote southwest of the island over an eight-year period, during which villagers periodically set aside designated areas of their fishing grounds as temporary ‘closures’ to octopus fishing.
The study sought to quantify the impacts of this short-term closure model by examining landings from 36 periodic octopus fishery closure sites, and comparing these landings to control sites where no fishing grounds were closed.
Describing the study’s findings, lead author Dr. Tom Oliver, now the Ocean and Climate Change Team Lead at NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, said: “This fisheries management regime brings substantial returns for these communities, with individual octopus catches increasing by almost 90% and village-level fishing income more than doubling in the month following each closure.”
Octopus is one of the region’s most important stocks, fished by women and men, and sold on to export markets with seafood companies transporting catches from some of the Indian Ocean’s remotest villages all the way to restaurants and supermarket shelves in southern Europe.
Each closure typically covers one fifth of a village’s fishing grounds and lasts for around two to three months, during which octopus fishing is banned by a traditional local laws established by community committees. When the closed sites are reopened to fishing, villagers share in a surge of catches, thanks to the rapid growth rates of reef octopus.
The study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows that these closures generate significant and recurring ‘pay-offs’ for coastal communities in short timeframes, which is particularly important in a country where over 90% of the population live on less than $2 per day. The study found that, on average, $1 worth of octopus left in the closure sites had grown to $1.81 by the end of the closure period.
The study also highlights that communities saw no significant decline in income during closures, but notes that villages with high rates of illegal poaching during closures experienced reduced economic performance, underscoring the importance of local level enforcement to accrue benefits from closures.
The practical benefits of this fisheries management regime are being seen by seafood businesses and communities alike. “Thanks to the octopus closures, export companies gain bigger octopus,” said Vassant Ramdenee, director of seafood business Murex International in the coastal city of Toliara.
Velvetine, a local fisher from the village of Andavadoaka, reports: “Before we started doing octopus closures, we were only catching two or three octopus in a day, and some days we wouldn’t catch any at all… With the closures we make a small sacrifice, but we can still glean on other reefs, and after waiting we catch more octopus; the catch is good in the days after openings. I have more money for food and for my family.”
The approach also receives strong support from fisheries authorities. “We encourage temporary closures set up by fishers, because communities see many benefits,” said Gilbert François, General Director of Madagascar’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. “The closures increase octopus landings for 30 days after they reopen, helping to improve the production of octopus.”
Following the rapid uptake of this periodic fishery closure model by villages along the western coast of Madagascar and beyond, many of these communities have moved on to establish more ambitious marine management initiatives, including the creation of Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs); zones of coast and ocean incorporating permanent reserves, with the aim of helping to protect marine biodiversity and rebuild fish stocks.
This broader management outcome adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that short-term interventions yielding tangible economic benefits can enhance community engagement, providing a powerful catalyst for locally led fisheries management and marine conservation.
Fisheries scientist and study co-author Daniel Raberinary, of Blue Ventures and the University of Toliara’s Marine Science Institute, said: “By demonstrating that effective fisheries management can reap dividends, this model is playing a powerful role in building local support for marine conservation.”
This study was carried out in partnership with fishing communities in southwest Madagascar, the University of Toliara’s Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines, Madagascar’s Ministère des Ressources Halieutiques et de la Pêche, and seafood companies Copefrito and Murex. This research was generously supported by partners including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Agence Malgache de la Pêche et de l’Aquaculture (AMPA), the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Network for Social Change, and the African Development Bank.
- The full paper can be accessed on the journal PLOS ONE here.
- This briefing document answers some frequently asked questions about the paper.
- This interactive webpage summarises the news story.
- This infographic summarises some of the key findings of the paper.
- The news story and briefing document can be downloaded in French.
- This photographic story describes the reopening of a temporary octopus fishery closure in southwest Madagascar.
- To contact the authors, please write to [email protected].
About Blue Ventures
Blue Ventures works with coastal communities to develop transformative approaches for catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. We work in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies, and are committed to protecting marine biodiversity in ways that benefit coastal people. Our conservation models are designed to demonstrate that effective management improves food security and makes economic sense.
Over the past decade, our work has guided national fisheries policy and been replicated by communities, NGOs, businesses, donors and government agencies along thousands of kilometres of coastline.