Hannah Becker (Programme Manager, Conservation Science & Design) discusses the impacts of temporary octopus fishery closures off the coast of Pemba Island, Tanzania…
Walking through the mangroves and along the sandy shores of Pemba Island, I marvel at the crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Pemba Channel. I am on patrol with members of Kukuu Village’s voluntary patrol team. I feel excited at the prospect of seeing the team in action – perhaps reprimanding someone fishing in the no fishing area (known as a no take zone) allocated by the community. In a way, I’m to be disappointed – no one is fishing in this area, and in fact it is increasingly rare that fishers are found here.
But while I may have missed out on the chance to see the team in action, this is testament to the success Kukuu has made over the last year. Together with local partner Mwambao Coastal Community Network (Mwambao), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with Kukuu community to protect their local marine ecosystem which is under threat from overfishing and the use of fishing gears that damage important habitats for fish.
The Pemba Channel is an area of exceptional biodiversity with highly important marine habitats and populations of commercially valuable, ecologically important, and globally vulnerable fish and mammal species – including tuna, groupers, and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins.
Since 2015, FFI has been working with Mwambao, the Department of Fisheries Development and, initially, Indian Ocean Commission-Smartfish to provide training and advice to fishing communities to help them protect their fisheries and marine habitats, and become leaders in community-driven marine conservation in Pemba.
This work began on the remote islet of Kisiwa Panza, where we worked with communities to trial a temporary octopus fishing closure. The results of this work were so impressive that neighbouring communities began to request support for similar projects, and from this we were able to start working with the Kukuu community. In 2016, three key octopus fishing areas – covering a total area of 436 hectares – were each closed for an average of over five months across the two communities.
Two years on, how successful have we been?
Today, walking with the Secretary of Kukuu fishers’ committee along the sea shore, he points out the boundaries of the community’s no fishing zone, which they expanded this year, and where fishing is only allowed for a few days every three to six months. Along the reef flat, he points out at least eight large octopuses hiding in little holes. Without his trained eyes, I would never have spotted them!
Having seen fishers in a community without a closed area bring in octopus weighing at a mere 300 g the day before, I am struck by the significant contrast in size today – one was estimated to be three kilos. This is just one indication of the difference closing an area for several months can make.
Luckily, thanks to community data recorders, who regularly monitor the individual weights of octopuses caught, we have robust evidence to show that closing areas to fishing does increase total catches threefold. Recent community in-water monitoring also indicates that fish densities are higher in the closed areas than outside them, so we are beginning to see wider biodiversity benefits.
By training the Kukuu fishers’ committee in governance, conflict resolution and patrolling, they have been able to enforce their closed area, stop fishers poaching, and catch larger octopus. The Kukuu fishers have also found a way to share the benefits of the closed area with their community by allocating a portion of income generated from fish and octopus caught in the no fishing area (on the few days fishing is allowed) to community projects.
While we’ve made great progress, there are still hurdles to overcome. For example, a new fishers’ committee has been elected in Kisiwa Panza who will need training and support to help them implement management measures with their community again.
We also need to work with octopus fishers, buyers and exporters to make these markets fairer and more profitable for those fishing sustainably.
In addition, more clarity about enforcement responsibilities and legislative processes for the fishers’ committees and local authorities is needed to help resolve conflicts with those fishers who are not following the rules and ensure all management is legal. Addressing these hurdles will form a major part of our ongoing work.
Thanks to new funding from the Darwin Initiative through UK Government funding, and ongoing support from the CML Family Foundation, and Arcadia (a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin) we are able to expand the scope of this project over the next four years.
This will include engaging with four more communities to help them improve their fishing practices and catches, and encouraging collaboration between the people we work with so that they can start to address threats to vulnerable species like turtles and dolphins.
We will also be working with Pemba’s Department of Fisheries Development to strengthen their support to community conservation efforts, and developing additional incentives for fishers to comply with sustainable management of their marine environment.
As I leave Pemba Island, I am struck by the commitment of fishers in Kukuu and Kisiwa Panza to ensure their marine environment is the best it can be – not only for them but also for future generations. I look forward to helping them achieve this goal.
It is with great sadness that I report the sudden passing away of Mr Salim Hassan Mohamed, Secretary of Kukuu Shehia Fishers Committee. Mr Salim was a friendly, wise, and visionary leader of the Committee who was fully committed to bringing about positive change for his community and the marine environment. He will be missed greatly.