Not only was it my first time in the “Old Town”, the beautiful heart of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, where the labyrinth of alleyways transport you to another time, and the historical monuments and museums bear witness to the cultural and artistic wealth of the island. It was also my first time to give a speech not in my mother tongue, with specialists and experts in fisheries management from all over the WIO as the audience. I was afraid to say something wrong or that I would swallow my words.


The multi-cultural hub that is Stone Town means a wander around is never boring! [image by Angela McQueen, MSC]

In late 2015, the three day workshop ‘Scaling success in octopus fisheries management in the Western Indian Ocean’, organised by Blue Ventures (BV) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) with funding from WIOMSA, was held. The workshop gathered funding institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government representatives, fishermen, scientific institutions, and seafood industry representatives from across the western Indian Ocean (WIO) region – in fact there were over 14 countries represented!

While the prospect of talking to this rather intimidating audience was scary, the challenge was worth it, because I learned that success in fisheries management includes acting not for your own interests but for the greater good of the fishing community.


BV Founder and Research Director Al Harris opens the workshop [image by Angela McQueen, MSC]

During the workshop the status of octopus fisheries and markets around the WIO was discussed, and the variety of local management approaches was described from each participating country. The MSC also gave a very detailed overview of the certification process to attain their standard, as well as information on Fishery Improvement Projects. This event was a wonderful opportunity to share lessons with leaders and influential people, and will enhance changes in management effort across the region. Success stories, or at least the first steps to success, were a key component of this; working closely with individual fisheries and communities was noted as being integral to these achievements.

Understanding the status and health of a fishery is hugely important for sustainable management, but (as explained by Dr Paul Medley during his talk) these analyses normally require large amounts of data. Developing world fisheries often struggle to fulfil these data requirements, and because this is a common problem throughout the Economic South, the BV team presented mobile phone based data collection as a potential tool for addressing this problem. Practical and not time consuming, this process be handled easily by local data collectors. While the project is still in early stages, there is real potential that this useful tool can be widely replicated; in fact it’s already being utilised in some of our other programmes in Madagascar!


BV’s Charlie Gough demonstrates how to sex an octopus [image by Angela McQueen, MSC]

Other practical sessions were also organised, not only did participants learn more about the mobile phone based tools being used by BV, but they also learned new techniques for collecting biological data including the identification and removal of gonads and stylets  from fresh octopus. The last group learned how to count the age of octopus from the circles on the stylet (which is a rudimentary shell found within the soft tissue of the octopus) a bit like counting the age of a tree!

Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) were also another popular topic at the workshop, presented by Martin Purves from the MSC. A FIP is a step by step process through which a fishery can improve its sustainability and avoid becoming overexploited; this was a new concept to many of the participants, but one that was very well received.


Martin Purves of the MSC, talks about FIPs [image by Angela McQueen, MSC]

Though it was a short stay for me, I learned lots about the different approaches for effective fisheries management. A sustainable fishery depends on how much the stakeholders are involved in its management. Efforts to reduce the lack of information and resolve data scarcity in fisheries in order to gain eco-certification, increases the chance for fisheries to succeed.

It was also interesting to meet the other participants, all hard working people who love octopus, and share our experiences and ideas. Plus getting the chance to discover the fabulous architecture of Stone Town and the diversity of its cuisine was an amazing experience for me!


Information sharing and collaboration were named as being integral for sustainable fisheries management [image by Angela McQueen, MSC]

I would like to thank the organisers of the workshop including the Marine Stewardship Council, and Blue Ventures for the great event, as well as the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association for funding our workshop.  I would also like to thank all the workshop participants for the information sharing and exchanges we had – these are little steps to move towards a big achievement in octopus fisheries management.

Posted by Tinah Martin

Tinah undertook Animal Biology Conservation and Ecology courses at the University of Antananarivo before moving to Toliara in 2011 for further education focusing on Marine Protected Areas Management at the Fisheries and Marine Science Institute (Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines – IHSM). Following this she undertook research on coral reef fish larvae abundance and diversity while working on an aquaculture development project at the IHSM; the project allowed Tinah to develop strong relationships with the fishermen in Sarodrano during a trial to improve their livelihoods. She has built a strong interest in fisheries and aquaculture during her education and professional career and is very happy to be part of the Blue Ventures family, having undertaken some data entry work with BV over the past few years. Tinah started working for the sustainable fisheries programme in August 2014 where her work focuses on supporting fisheries management in the southwest of Madagascar – providing technical guidance within a community of stakeholders and assisting the Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager.

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