By Melita Samoilys, CORDIO East Africa / Our Sea Our Life – 08 March, 2016
The beaming faces of the fishermen and women, the crowd on the beach and the excitement in the air were palpable on Tuesday 8th March 2016 at Quiwia, on Mozambique’s northern coast. This was the long awaited day when the villagers opened their octopus reserve to fishing. Fishers were fishing from around 7 am to noon, buyers were on the beach trading furiously and a record of 350 kilos of fish was brought in by the end of the day – the equivalent of a normal 15-day fishing period. The octopus were huge, with the largest weighing 4 kilos. One fisherman brought in 27 kilos alone, another fisherwoman brought in 15 kilos. Before the temporary reserve was set up this area of intertidal reef was hardly harvested or fished as it had been almost completely depleted, and for those who rarely fished there, the daily catch was 1 or 1.5 kg maximum per fisher.
The fishers of Quiwia, many of them women, searched the reserve using their traditional fishing methods of either a wooden or iron spear, maybe a mask, or simply their hands, and chatted in delight on the beach when they returned with their high catches and large octopus.
Quiwia village, with the Pemba based Mozambican environmental organisation, AMA (associacao do meio ambiante), and the Our Sea Our Life (OSOL) Project have been working towards this significant day for the last two years. Jointly, they selected and demarcated an intertidal area of 130 hectares in September 2015 and the community closed it to all forms of fishing with the express purpose of protecting the octopus during their rapid growth period so that they could grow to full size and thus maximise the weight of catches. This fisheries management approach addresses “growth overfishing” and can be very effective for fast growing species such as octopus that grow from 0.5 kg to 3 kg in a matter of 2.5 months!
The Quiwia temporary reserve has definitely been a success to get the essential community buy-in to sustain the management of the octopus fishery. New challenges are coming up though, such as neighboring communities entering the reserve although they have not contributed to enforcing it. Also, it’s important now to assess the level of increasing fishing effort at this reserve. Quiwia fishers and CCP members are willing to share their experience with other coastal villages and are also ready to test complementary strategies such as permanent reserves for protecting the necessary breeding populations for octopus and valuable finfish species in the local fisheries.