Kick-starting marine conservation through local fisheries management

Blue Ventures
Published: 06 May 2016
Last edited: 30 September 2020
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Voluntary and temporary closures of octopus fishing grounds are used as a point of entry for community-based conservation. Closures typically cover 25% of a community’s overall octopus fishing area and are in place for 2-3 months at a time. There is compelling evidence that this improves fishery yields and local incomes, thereby building support to protect natural resources through locally managed marine areas (LMMAs); areas where the management of marine resources are at least in part under community control. These LMMAs often employ marine management strategies such as bans on destructive fishing practices and  community-enforced permanent no-take zones.


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 governance
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Shift of seasons
Tropical cyclones / Typhoons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services


Andavadoaka, Madagascar


Climate change, overfishing, rising coastal poverty and food insecurity, lack of conservation incentives.


Many marine conservation efforts fail. Top-down declaration that large areas are permanently off-limits to fishing all too often puts conservation at loggerheads with the needs of coastal communities, disenfranchising the people who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods. For many tropical coastal communities, forgoing fishing in protected areas represents too severe an economic sacrifice and too significant an opportunity cost.


Coastal fishing communities witin Madagascar.

How do the building blocks interact?

The building blocks work together to create a dialogue about management, and generate strong community support. The peer-peer exchange (BB2) demonstrates the fact that similar communities have had positive experiences and helps communities to feel supported and empowered to take on the management challenge. Peer-to-peer exchange can also foster a sense of healthy competition: “If they can do it then we can do it too” or even “I bet we can have an even more productive closure than them”. Working through each of the steps in setting up the closure (BB 3-4) fosters strong community participation and ownership of the closure, ensures that local knowledge is employed and also provides a platform for discussing other potential management initiatives. Finally, community support for management generated through initial diagnostic activities (BB 1), the opening of a successful closure (BB 5), and discussions about broader management initiatives (BB 2-4), set the stage for establishment of a community governance structure that supports locally managed marine areas.


Research into the effectiveness of the octopus closures has shown that they can improve catches and income, with landings from closed fishing sites increasing by more than 700% in the month following the lifting of a closure, boosting the catch per fisher per day by almost 90% over the same period. On average, we’ve found that 1 dollars’ worth of octopus left in the closed fishing site has grown to $1.81 by the end of a closure. In Madagascar, the success of early closures has led to other communities following suit, with more than 270 closures having taken place to date. Adoption continues to grow each year, not only in Madagascar, but now in other countries in the region. The approach has also been introduced to artisanal fisheries for mud crab and spiny lobster. Following the successful establishment of the closures, fishing communities across Madagascar have grouped together to establish more than 190 management associations and 70 LMMAs that ban destructive fishing practices. MIHARI, Madagascar’s LMMA network, now covers over 17% of the island’s seabed, and is championed at the highest levels of government. At the end of 2017, Blue Ventures' work in Madagascar is improving the lives of over 200,000 people. The imperative now is to bring this successful approach to coastal communities across the Indian Ocean.


At first just a single sail marks the division between sky and sea. Then there is another closer by. And more, until about twenty outrigger canoes gather on a reef flat six kilometres off the coast of southwest Madagascar. As the tide begins to recede, the traditional Vezo fishers step out of their canoes and pull them into the shallows of the reef flat. Two and a half months earlier they had closed this particular reef flat to octopus fishing. They had used a traditional law to enforce the temporary closure. It had been well respected; and today they are here to reap the rewards of their investment. Spears in hand, they fan out over the reef flat, scanning the nooks and crannies of the shallows for signs of octopus. Soon the crowd is scattered over an enormous expanse of the reef flat. Velvetine, a 60 year old octopus gleaner: “Octopus gleaning is the only way that I can earn money. Octopus is really the only seafood that we women can sell. Before we started doing octopus reserves, we were only catching two or three octopus in a day, and some days we wouldn’t catch any at all. With the reserves we make a small sacrifice, but we can still glean on other reefs, and after waiting we catch more octopus – the catch is good in the days after openings. I have more money for food and for my family. For these reasons, I want to continue with the octopus reserves.” Families begin gathering around their pirogues and putting their sails back up. One by one they set sail for the village. There they sell great bundles of freshly caught octopus to expectant buyers. Later, the collection trucks arrive to take the catch to the regional capital of Toliara. Men carry sacks full of octopus from the buyer’s stands to the collection trucks, straining under the weight. A manager for one of the export companies arrives with his assistant to check that everything is as it should be, making sure that the octopus landed by local fishers this morning will get to Toliara fresh and eventually on to the dinner plates of Europe. And so management has entered the lifeblood of this village and its people, as it has in so many others like it along the coast of southwest Madagascar. Since the first temporary closure was trialled, closures have been taken up by other villages along the coastline, giving short-term boosts in catches and fisher incomes, and sparking and building enduring support for more ambitious conservation efforts led by communities, for communities.

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Rupert Quinlan Blue Ventures

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