Today in the Indian Ocean a landmark fishery closure is being held to boost the artisanal fisheries of island communities. Small-scale fisheries face growing challenges in the face of continued over exploitation. Rodrigues, a tiny Mauritian island, has been battling declining fisheries productivity for the last 15 years. Lying nearly 1,000 kilometres east of Madagascar, Rodrigues established its first national closure of all octopus fishing grounds on the island last week, in order to help safeguard the future sustainability of its reef octopus, the island's most economically important fishery. The Rodrigues Regional Government, taking its cue from similar closures piloted in Madagascar over the past decade, has taken a decisive step towards protecting the future of this resource for the island's fishing communities.
"This closure is important for us... in Rodrigues there are many people facing poverty, and this will help them get money to sustain their families. It is a good thing for us." Gerard Castel, Fisherman, Rodrigues
The two-month closure of the Rodrigues fishery pushes both Mauritius and Madagascar to the forefront of artisanal fisheries management efforts in the western Indian Ocean region, with both countries tackling fisheries sustainability with forward-thinking approaches to coastal management. Chronic overfishing on the island of Rodrigues has led to a 75% reduction in octopus catches in recent years, making this closure of huge importance to local fishing communities. Results of a long-term study of the biological and economic impacts of similar fishery closures in Madagascar over the past decade have shown conclusive benefits to the octopus stocks and fishers' incomes. This closure has been initiated by the Rodrigues Regional Government of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA), with support from the Indian Ocean Commission's (IOC) SmartFish Initiative, and in collaboration with communities and NGOs in the region.
"The combination of the desire of Rodrigues' communities to adopt this model and the forward-thinking vision of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly has led to the national adoption of the innovative temporary closure management model." Dominique Gréboval Team Leader, SmartFish (COI-EU)
A series of meetings and fisher exchange trips between communities and fisheries managers from Madagascar and Rodrigues helped pave the way for the Indian Ocean's latest closure on August 13th, along with an ambitious island-wide awareness-raising programme, which included the distribution of over 10,000 educational comics to children in all of Rodrigues' schools.
"I heard about the project in meetings, on radio and television. I think the project will be a success but all things need to be tried to know if it is good or not. It is good for our country to protect our sea." Annecie Clair, Fish Collector, Rodrigues
Rodrigues' move towards sustainable marine resources management is seen as the last hope for the struggling octopus population. The closure is being closely monitored by Shoals Rodrigues, a locally based marine NGO and SEMPA, a recently established marine park on Rodrigues' southern coast with support from IOC-Smartfish. It is hoped that the same benefits seen from similar closures in Madagascar will be experienced by the fishery stakeholders in Rodrigues. Such success would bring benefits to the fishery and to local communities, catalysing continuation and expansion of this management approach to enhance the long-term sustainability of one of this region's most valuable fisheries.
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