by Sylvia Paulot, Blue Forests Scientist, Madagascar
As mangrove conservation officer, I have visited many villages in mangrove forests, and talked much with the local people, but I have never really experienced first-hand the daily life of a fisher from one of these villages. So while visiting Andranolava, a fishing village located in Morondava on the west coast of Madagascar, I decided to follow the local fishers during their journey to catch crabs in the mangrove channels.
That day it just so happened that I bumped into Ravely, a boy from the village, on his pirogue. I was so excited at the opportunity to see him fish that I didn’t even think about the fact that we were strangers, however this was soon remedied. Ravely, like his parents, catches mangrove crabs for a living; something he has been doing since he was a teenager. Ravely learned the fishing techniques from his father, and also by following friends in the village. He usually sells his catch, and he proudly told me that he bought the pirogue we were sitting in with his hard earned crab income.
Before this trip I had very little idea about how people in Madagascar caught mud crabs; this is understandable since I have always lived in the east of Madagascar and mangroves are mostly located on the western coast.
I imagined that we had to get out of the pirogue to catch the crabs; walk in the mud, check crab holes and maybe even run after them! But, I was wrong as surprisingly, it is the women in the village who catch the crabs on foot. We stayed in the boat because men catch the crabs using a very simple tool: a bamboo stick of approximately 40 cm with a rope line attached at one end. The line has bait attached and a weight so that it sinks into the water. The crab ’rods’ are thrown into the water, with few metres between them, and the men go up and down the channel in the pirogue to check, rod by rod, if a crab went for the bait. If so, then he slowly and carefully rolls the string up around the bamboo stick and catches the crab with a net. The fisher then puts the crab into a thick plastic bag, so that it can’t escape in the pirogue and pinch our feet!
That day Ravely caught a half bag of crabs, but still he wasn’t satisfied, and complained that he didn’t catch enough. He could have blamed me for it because I was talking to him so much in the pirogue, asking him lots of questions, but he didn’t. When I asked if I had bothered him, he just smiled and said not to worry – it wasn’t the season for catching crabs anyway!