Empowering local communities to manage small-scale fisheries

Wildlife Conservation Society
Published: 22 February 2016
Last edited: 30 September 2020
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This solution adopts a dual bottom-up / top-down approach to local marine resource management in a network of 26 marine reserves. It developed a seascape-scale coastal fisheries co-management plan providing formal national recognition for local fishers’ rights, and customary social conventions (dina) between fisher communities. Fishers were resourced to enforce regulations and the dina to increase their role in marine resource management, and compensate for under-resourced Government agencies.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Fisheries and aquaculture
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services


Antongil Bay, northeast Madagascar


  • Lacking sense of ownership & legal recognition
  • 100,000 predominantly poor, rural people, rely on the rich waters of Antongil Bay to sustain their livelihoods
  • Overexploitation due to increasing human population, destructive fishing practices, and lack of compliance with fishing gear restrictions are driving degradation of coastal habitat and fisheries, plus loss of coral reefs and declines in fish and invertebrates.


100,000 people from 26 Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) in Antongil Bay.

How do the building blocks interact?

The management plan (BB 1) provides the national level framework and is essential to legitimize the communities’ roles and responsibilities in the eyes of decision makers in Government. This also generates pride and responsibility in local communities who understood that their role in natural resource management is taken seriously. In addition, it provides long-term sustainability to the overall structure of community rights by enshrining them in national legislation. The dinabe (BB 2) is a bottom up, local process aiming to build community ownership and comprehension related to sustainable resources use. It is an important complement as it is understood by communities and has legitimacy in their eyes. It also sends a signal to the Government of the engagement of local communities and their willingness for a management and decision making role. Control and Surveillance Committees (BB 3) represent an essential supporting pillar and provide for a simple, responsive, and proximate enforcement mechanism that builds on the important role of local communities as having the primary responsibility. Without this enforcement, the management and dinas would simply be reports on a shelf that had legal recognition but without any real value.


A key success of the joint efforts of resource users, WCS and Government was the outlawing of beach seining by the Government in 2006. Analanjirofo Region, incl. Antongil Bay, is the only place in Madagascar where these destructive fishing gears are prohibited by law. As a result of temporary fisheries closures and enforcement of laws regulating fishing gear, local community members noted an increase in catch per unit effort; increase in size of fish caught; increase in abundance of juvenile; reappearance of some species; gradual restoration of habitats; increase in local capacity to manage their resources; improved relations between local communities and local authorities; decrease in the use of beach seines; and an increase in economic revenue from fishing. Monitoring indicated a tenfold increase in finfish biomass between 2013 and 2015 in the restricted areas, while finfish biomass in the no-take zones of the LMMAs doubled in the same period. The management plan also legally establishes Madagascar’s first shark sanctuary in Antongil Bay, an important habitat area for sharks with at least 19 species present that are known to be harvested, a third of which are threatened with extinction.


The locally managed marine reserves in Antongil Bay are organized into a network of 26 reserves that in turn form part of a national network of locally managed marine reserves – the MIHARI network. In October 2015 the communities around Antongil Bay had the honor of hosting over 150 members of the MIHARI network from all around the country for the annual national forum. The fisher associations in Antongil Bay were incredibly proud to demonstrate both to other local communities from around Madagascar the work that they had done and all that they had achieved through the management plan, dinas and their involvement in the CCS – which are the first of their kind in the country. The atmosphere during the weeklong forum was festive! Government officials, visitors from the Pacific where locally managed marine reserves are a well-developed management tool, local communities, youths and NGO representatives met in tents, on grass, on the sand, in village huts for formal and informal discussions on how best to advance in achieving a common goal of improved local management for marine reserves. For many in the local communities it was the first time they had had the chance to discuss directly, on an equal footing with high-level Government officials who traveled from Antananarivo (Madagascar’s capital) and their sense of pleasure that their work was being recognized at this level was overwhelming. As a direct result of some of the discussions held, the Government launched the preparation of a new national decree on locally managed marine protected areas that is currently being finalized. At the end of event, a competition for the largest octopus raised in the seasonal no-take zones of Antongil Bay was held and the winner weighed in at a whopping 6.2kg.

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rranaivoson@wcs.org's picture

Alison Clausen Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

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Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)