Archive Content

Please note: This page has been archived and its content may no longer be up-to-date. This version of the page will remain live for reference purposes as we work to update the content across our website.

Fish for food, overfish for... death?

Posted on 17 March 2008

Sustainable fishing and marine conservation is an important issue: not only on a local scale but on a national and international one. As you well know it isn’t an easy subject to discuss; it is rather humbling when you are asked if Madagascar should take example on the way fishing is managed in Europe… what would you answer a part from “no not really”!

By Dominic Tilley, Explore Volunteer 2008

Sustainable fishing and marine conservation is an important issue: not only on a local scale but on a national and international one. As you well know it isn’t an easy subject to discuss; it is rather humbling when you are asked if Madagascar should take example on the way fishing is managed in Europe… what would you answer a part from “no not really”!

Over fishing is not only an issue on the SW coast of Madagascar… the fishing industry is pushing to be able to fish more, scientist are saying that fishing should be reduced significantly… and nothing but declarations are being produced.

Sustainable fishing is important to the people in Madagascar as fish is food, in other words life. There is a great variety in of fish but the effect of over fishing is clearly visible. This is most likely due to the population growth, and the rising number of people turning to the sea to get food.

I must admit eating fresh fish everyday is fantastic, however when you know how big some of these fish grow, you feel disappointed when the ones presented to you are less than half of that size. In Itampolo there were a lot of small fish…having stayed there for most of the time, we could see the daily practices and the number of small fish landed was significant. There were some very big ones…but few and far between. In comparison, in Tariboly (north of Itampolo) the number of big fish was greater; these were seen as dried specimens. This is a way of preserving them. Gaetan (the local WWF representative), always gets his dried fish from Tariboly, where they are bigger.

It's surprising to learn that the FAO[1] (Food & Agriculture Organisation) promoted long line fishing and drift nets in the area for shark fishing. When you know the effects of this sort of equipment on marine turtles and the effect of overfishing sharks on the food web, the decision is questionable. This may have made life easier for the fisherman but the conservation logic would see it in a different manner. I am not saying that it is wrong to help people in their quest for food, but I am questioning the rationale behind this specific issue. This policy was changed and the FAO no longer support these methods.

The difficult thing is to know what to do… help the people or the environment? If it comes down to one or the other, humans being humans will help themselves without taking into consideration the importance of the environment. So why don’t we help both? That is what we are trying to say and that is what WWF is promoting.

To do so, we went visiting the fishermen in Itampolo and the other surrounding villages – roughly a half a day travel by taxi brousse – and sat down with them and just started talking over various points. How each components of the system are linked, getting their views, filling in what they didn’t know… that sort of thing. Not lecturing but discussing points, trying to understand their practices, trying to explain our point of view but keeping in mind that fish and fishing means food and they get to live another day. It takes time and needs to be done in a subtle manner. To do this we had Gaetan’s help, he has been working with WWF in the area for some time and knows the fishermen. Moreover we were not completely fluent, to say the least, in teny gasy! So he helped us with that and being is a marine biologist he does know what he is on about! The days of self appointed experts are over!

It is “funny” how nobody wants to be seen as the one with the bad practices: when we saw people with small fish and explained to them why they should avoid taking them, they always claimed that they don’t normally do it; it was just this one time.

The reef is at risk due to overfishing but also to the fishing methods. The use of the voloso (wooden spear with a metallic head) used to kill octopus and moray eels is damaging the reef. But it is difficult to find a solution to this problem as octopus is a valuable resource and the voloso is the only tool for the job. The removal of gastropods, such as the Sea Triton (Charonia Tritonis) is a problem for the reef; the sea triton is the only predator to the spiny star fish (Acanthaster planci) which is a threat to the reef as it eats the polyps thus killing the reef. The shells are pretty and often sold as ornamental pieces for tourists; we saw lots of shells in shops in Tana, all sizes available for only a few thousand Ariary. This is not officially a protected species… attempts where made to get it listed but lack of sufficient data and scientific research has so far prevented this from happening. It seems to me that there never is enough data, never enough research done, we always need more information… why not work with what we have? We were explaining the known role of the sea triton to the fishermen, telling them what it really does [and there is scientific research to back that up!]; some of them knew its role, some didn’t but they are always willing to listen, always eager to learn.

Most people were really receptive to the explanations we were giving and you feel really good about it. We can actually make a difference, progress might be slow but if everyone does there bit, then we can get somewhere.


[1] McVean A.R., Walker R.C.J. and Fanning E. (2006) ‘The traditional shark fisheries of southwest Madagascar: A study in the Toliara region’, Fisheries Research 82 (1-3); 280-289