Octopus management - an entry point for collaborative fisheries management

Lorna Slade
Mwambao Coastal Community Network
Published: 08 May 2016
Last edited: 30 September 2020
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This solution addresses sustainable marine management in Zanzibar in the face of increased fishing pressure. It illustrates that the implementation of a successful octopus management regime can improve yields in a very short period of time through 3-month voluntary no-take zones (NTZ). The participatory approach in training, learning and data analysis can provide an entry point for the wider introduction of collaborative management, to the benefit of all stakeholders.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Coastal and marine spatial management
Fisheries and aquaculture
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
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
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


South Pemba Region, Tanzania | Unguja, Zanzibar, Tanzania


Declining fisheries and lack of capacity and experience for collaborative management. There is limited precedent for collaborative management in Zanzibar fisheries and limited understanding of opportunities within current legislation. Population pressure, climate change impacts, lack of alternative livelihoods, limited value addition, replacement of traditional with more efficient gears, access to resources, and increased market demands for export, increase pressure on marine resources.


Pilot villages, Fishers Committees (VFC), conservation area managers, buyers and consumers of marine products, Department of Fisheries Development, MWAMBAO Coastal Community Network

How do the building blocks interact?

  1. Discuss principles of octopus management with fishers and willingness for a voluntary closure. Work with Village Fisher Committee (VFC) to carry out mapping of octopus resource areas and identify potential locations for No-Take Zones (NTZ), clarify by-law procedures and provide training in record-keeping and patrol. Carry out awareness raising in neighbouring villages. Carry out octopus value chain analysis interviews with key stakeholders.
  2. BB1. Recruit and train recorders and data logger (min one month before closure), begin to collect data.
  3. BB3. Provide further training to the committee on standard operating procedures.
  4. BB2. After NTZ opening, carry out Participatory Video training and make a short film with the committee on lessons learned (this is an optional step).
  5. BB1. At least 3 months after opening, carry out participatory data analysis with recorders and present results to the Department of Fisheries and the wider community and discuss implications for management.
  6. BB4. Carry out value chain analysis for other fisheries and combine with resource mapping to set conservation targets. This will identify further research needs and facilitate management planning for the entire fisheries area.


  • Successful demonstration of local management capability
  • Successful demonstration of a successful management regime for octopus
  • Increased quantity and average size of octopus over the project period (early 2015 to today)
  • Improved understanding of local governance and MCU (Marine Conservation Unit) regulations both by Village Fisher Committee (VFC) and by Pemba Channel Conservation Area (PECCA) managers
  • Understanding of the mechanism of establishing local by-laws
  • By-laws in place
  • Steps in building collaborative management understood and documented in a manual
  • Ability to collect, log and analyze basic catch data locally
  • Ability to document experiences and observations using participatory video so that lessons can be shared more widely
  • Community willingness to both repeat the closure for octopus but also to begin exploring targeted management regimes for other species such as sea cucumbers, cowries and key fish species
  • A close relationship has developed between marine conservation unit authorities and the local village fisheries committee (VFC)



Octopus “banks” are an exciting first step towards building collaborative management. Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea) rarely live beyond 24 months. The female who breeds only once, lays, protects and aerates her eggs in a deep coral den for 30 days. Initially dispersing, the young eventually settle again on the reef where they grow fast, doubling their size in two months. Octopus fishing is an important livelihood source in Zanzibar. Actually, very few local people eat octopus; a large part of the catch in Pemba is shipped to Europe, with catch from Unguja Island going to local tourist hotels. In 2014, MWAMBAO Coastal Community Network, was approached by the IOC-Smartfish programme, interested in piloting sustainable octopus management, and also by Fauna & Flora International, wanting to promote co-management in the Pemba Channel Conservation Area. We suggested combining approaches, using sustainable octopus management as an entry point to wider co-management. The selected pilot island of Kisiwa Panza had seen octopus catches declining. Hooked iron rods have replaced traditional sticks for men and women hunting octopus on the reef-flats, and men use masks and fins to fish for octopus in deeper waters. The villagers selected a 60 ha. no-take zone and fisher committee members patrolled the area for three months. We trained school leavers to record the catch and recruited a school teacher to log the data. We worked with the committee and with PECCA staff to create by-laws and to carry out awareness-raising campaigns locally. Women suggested lifting the closure in the expensive month of Ramadhan – in effect, the reserve would be an octopus “bank.” Only two cases of poaching were detected and on opening day, more than 600 fishers arrived - one woman caught an 8 kg giant, a very rare event. Eight months of monitoring showed that post-opening catches initially increased by more than 100%; 4 months later, catches had not yet dropped back to pre-closure levels (lows) and average octopus size seems to have increased. Village monitors presented their results to the Department of Fisheries and the Village Fisheries Committee recorded their experiences using participatory video. Octopus closures yield quick results. Our experience has been that the tangible benefit evidenced on the day of opening builds trust between Village Fisheries Committee and fishers and between fisheries officers and the community, thereby opening the door to further co-management negotiations.

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lornaslade@mwambao.or.tz's picture

Lorna Slade Mwambao Coastal Community Network

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Mwambao Coastal Community Network
Mwambao Coastal Community Network