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Mozambique's marine management success

Quirimbas National Park is the first to be established at the request of its inhabitants (© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique)
Quirimbas National Park is the first to be established at the request of its inhabitants
© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique

The north-eastern coast of Mozambique boasts stunning coastal forest, rich coral reefs and mangroves. Yet devastating and unregulated fishing practices have left only smaller fish and threatened the regions' delicate ecosystem. In 2002, local communities asked for a 750,639 hectare area along the coast to be protected as a national park and the resulting Quirimbas National Park is the first in the world to be established at the request of its inhabitants.

With support from local NGO, Association for the Environment (AMA), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the 100,000 park residents continue fishing while enforcing strict restrictions on harvests; Community Fishing Councils, trained by WWF, monitor 'no-take' sanctuary zones which act as breeding areas. Penalties for harvesting from no-take sanctuaries include confiscation of equipment and perpetrators risk criticism from the rest of the community. This management technique has resulted in booming stocks, in particular of pearl oyster (Pinctada capensis). Carefully managed rotating harvest zones have also been introduced, where fishermen can collect boosted oyster stocks from designated rotating areas.

Strong community spirit

Rotating harvest zones, located next to no-take sanctuaries, are marked by concrete blocks on the seabed connected by a rope visible from the water's surface. Zones are monitored by members of the Community Fishing Councils, who also regulate the time that harvesting can be done - generally at low tide. The government's Provincial Fishery Services control department is integral to the project, responsible for inspecting fishing gear to ensure that legal net mesh sizes and sustainable practices have been used in the harvesting of oysters and fish.

Mangroves have been replanted in an attempt to restore the regions' delicate ecosystem (© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique)
Mangroves have been replanted in an attempt to restore the regions' delicate ecosystem
© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique

However, enforcement has not been a challenge because, as WWF technical advisor Sean Nazerali explains, "The mapping and implementation of no-take zones was carried out with and by local communities. They come to ask for help in establishing the no-take and rotational harvest zones, even in villages outside the park borders."

Councils also enable communities to negotiate if harvesting restrictions prove detrimental to their livelihood or stocks. For example, a six-month closed season in one rotation zone led to very high harvests when the area was re-opened. This prompted the community to negotiate a three-month rotation period in future to pace harvesting and ensure more stable stocks. Balancing sustainable yields with the need to earn an income, fishermen are also more aware about oyster breeding patterns and opt to fish elsewhere when only small oysters are present.

Spicing things up

Pearl oysters are traditionally used by the park's community as a dietary supplement, making a sauce for rice. Oysters are sold at local markets by the cup for about US$0.60 a kilo - a practice which is not very profitable. But with some simple value-addition techniques, incomes have been boosted six-fold.

Training has been given to fish processors, mostly women, in pre-cooking, boiling or drying the oysters and seasoning them with spices or preserving them in oil. This has led to the establishment of a small market hub in the village of Mussemuco within the park. Even hotels in the provincial capital, Pemba, are buying the improved, more hygienic products.

Although the ethic of conservation has spread among the local community, there remain challenges. An analysis of the current fish market will have to be provided by a consultant before further advice on processing or value addition is given. And a thorough assessment of fish and oyster catching practices to eliminate illegal and inadequate fishing gear, together with advice on where and how to obtain sustainable equipment, is needed. Minimum harvest sizes will also have to be established.

Fish today, fish tomorrow...

Now there are more than a dozen self-funded oyster-processing groups (© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique)
Now there are more than a dozen self-funded oyster-processing groups
© Alvo Ofumane/WWF Mozambique

There have been significant changes for the park's residents who have benefitted from boosted income. While the first oyster-processing group was donor-funded, now there are more than a dozen self-funded enterprises using the same business model. Mussemuco, a village of 240 people, had only one mobile phone two years ago - today there are more than 30, and local shops stock previously unaffordable items such as washing powder and curry spice.

The drive to introduce sustainable alternatives to fishing, such as honey making, has been difficult because fisheries remain the preferred source of income but there have been successes, such as a self-sustaining bakery group of ten women. And the park's community has demonstrated that with astute stock management, fish and oyster harvesting can be sustainable.

Today the park is the largest marine-protected area in the Indian Ocean. No-take zones have successfully been implemented in national policy, and eleven Fishing Councils have been formally established, with three officially legalised by the Ministry of Fisheries. This approach is being scaled-up by WWF and partners including the government in other areas of Mozambique where fish stocks are depleted, as well as along the shores of Lake Malawi. Conservation manuals are currently being developed for the national curriculum, and the message is being spread on local radio: "Fish today, tomorrow and forever, for our children's future."

Written by: Georgina Smith

Date published: June 2011


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