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From Toliara’s sights to Hong Kong’s bright lights

by Sophie Benbow, Southwest Regional Coordinator, Madagascar

Arriving in Hong Kong direct from Toliara, southwest Madagascar highlighted some fairly stark contrasts. While Toliara is in fact the sixth largest city in Madagascar, bright lights and fast cars it is not. The sleepy seaside city of Toliara is in fact a world apart from the bustling metropolis and neon lights of Hong Kong.

Nathan Road, Kowloon Hong Kong

I travelled to Hong Kong to represent Blue Ventures at the 10th International Seafood Summit organised by Seaweb, a fantastic marine conservation organisation who also very generously sponsored my plane ticket for which I am extremely grateful.

The Summit was an amazing opportunity for Blue Ventures to mingle with seafood collectors, processors and retailers with a passion for sustainable seafood as well as the usual crowd of NGOs. It was a new experience for us and it was very interesting to hear about all the brilliant connections between fisheries and retailers that already exist around the world.

The only downside to the meeting from Blue Ventures’ point of view was the strong focus on larger and more commercial fisheries than the small octopus fisheries we are working with – I felt like a very small fish in a very big pond when people were discussing multi-million dollar tuna fisheries! It was also interesting to see the lack of representation by developing world fisheries, collectors and retailers, and this is something that I hope will increase over the next 10 years of the summit. Developing world fisheries are the future of sustainable seafood and everyone now needs to turn their attention towards them if we are to successfully feed the burgeoning global population and ensure food security for those coastal communities who depend completely on their marine resources.

Traditional and artisanal fishers are increasingly in conflict with industrial fisheries and this needs to be recognised

During the summit Seaweb announced the 2012 Seafood Champions and much to our delight Blue Ventures was awarded this great honour for our work to promote sustainable octopus production in Madagascar. This was a very proud moment for me – to be recognised for all the hard work our team has put in over the last 8 years, working tirelessly with local communities to encourage short term closures of octopus fishing sites, leading to over 150 replications in Madagascar! We now have solid empirical data to prove that these fishing closures work both biologically and economically, boosting individual fisher catch and profit from the fishery.

Blue Ventures and 8 other organisations are recognised as Seafood Champions

Blue Ventures is continuing to work with communities in southwest Madagascar to help them manage the octopus fishery sustainability. We have already helped to establish a regional octopus management committee with representatives of all stakeholder groups in the region. Our next challenge is to formalise the management structures and take our first steps towards applying for Marine Stewardship Council certification of the fishery, a globally recognised eco label which would help to further publicise the current successes we have experienced and hopefully increase incomes of Madagascar’s octopus fishers.

About Sophie Benbow

Sophie managed our sustainable fisheries programme from 2010 until 2013, supporting communities along Madagascar's southwest coast to establish periodic octopus reserves.