By Alasdair Harris, Founder and Research Director, Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Throughout southern Madagascar, temporary closures of octopus fishing grounds are emerging as a popular management tool for this economically important fishery. In southwest Madagascar alone, over 100 such fishery closures have now been implemented since 2004, following a management approach pioneered by Blue Ventures within the Velondriake locally managed marine protected area.
A long-term study of seven years of temporary closures within Velondriake has recently shown significant sustained benefits to fisheries landings in the aftermath of seasonal reserves, as well as demonstrating lasting economic and social benefits to communities.
These lessons learned from managing Velondriake’s octopus fisheries are not just relevant to Madagascar – many coastal communities throughout the Indian Ocean are dependent on octopus for food and income, and almost all of the region’s octopus fisheries are struggling from the effects of overfishing.
Situated nearly 1000 kilometres east of Madagascar, the tiny Mauritian island of Rodrigues boasts a vast fringing coral reef and lagoon that once supported productive coral reef fisheries. Gleaning and diving for octopus have traditionally been a major part of Rodriguan fishing culture, with octopus dominating the export catch. Yet in recent years, chronic overfishing, combined with a lack of effective management, have taken a heavy toll on the island’s precious octopus stocks: in the last 15 years landings have collapsed to around a quarter of their former size, raising grave concerns about the future of this critically important fishery.
Many parallels exist between southern Madagascar and Rodrigues, in terms of both the ecology of the marine environment and the nature of artisanal fisheries. Given the challenges facing Rodrigues’ octopus, in mid May the government of Rodrigues convened a workshop to discuss Velondriake’s experiences of octopus management in order to ascertain whether similar steps could be taken to safeguard Rodrigues’ remaining stocks.
During the course of a series of meetings with fishermen, women, NGOs, and members of parliament and regional government, Blue Ventures scientists presented results, experiences and recommendations for new legislation to help octopus stocks recover. The meetings, supported and convened by the European Union (ProGeCo), provided a forum for discussion of the relative merits and potential limitations of different management approaches, ranging from closed seasons to minimum catch sizes.