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Light at the end of the tunnel for Malagasy fishermen

Interview with Tsiza Ernest, President of a ten-member fishermen’s association in Sahoragna

60-year old Tsiza Ernest is President of a ten-member fishermen's association (The Whale) in Sahoragna neighbourhood, in the east coast commune of Fenerive Est some 500 km from the capital. As the problems that are destroying fishermen's livelihoods threatened to overwhelm his association, the Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM) process provided timely confirmation of their achievements and prospects for the future.

Why do you say that P3DM came just in time for you?

Tsiza Ernest: The P3DM learning process was like a shot in the arm for the sector, the association and especially for my family. Things had been difficult for a while and we were getting really desperate, but I can't stop being a fisherman now. I have no choice but to carry on. We used to be able to make a decent living from fishing but now we need several sources of income to make ends meet. Thankfully, things have seemed a bit more hopeful since the Liaison Office for Rural Training Institutions (BIMTT) ran some sessions on participatory 3-D modelling (P3DM) in early 2016, with support from CTA. We all came away feeling that we could do something to address the problems and get fishing back on its feet again. The P3DM process helped everyone understand the situation and gave us the opportunity to think about it together around the model, exchange ideas and take appropriate measures. It was a really useful exercise because representatives from different parts of the fishing industry were there – fishermen, staff from the town hall, the Regional Directorate for Fisheries (DRP), the Saint Benoît religious community, traditional authorities, etc. All the fishermen who work in a 30km-stretch of the east coast were represented. Everyone was there.

What are the problems and how can they be resolved?

Tsiza Ernest: The main issue is over-exploitation due to illegal fishing. Our output has fallen considerably over the last 10 years, and nowadays we have to go much further afield to have any hope of catching something. It's a free-for-all. There's no regulated closed fishing season, no limits on minimum or maximum sizes, no standardised equipment and no properly demarcated fishing zones. This is an emergency. It's not unusual to come across strangers or Chinese fishermen in motorboats that swallow up everything in their path. People also use floodlights in sensitive areas such as spawning grounds or large shellfish beds, and this has serious consequences – like a bushfire that displaces creatures from their habitat and makes it easier to flush them out in future. They're coming in and stealing our resources! Some people use mosquito nets instead of fishing nets, which take everything, right down to the eggs. The authorities just turn a blind eye to it. Our association has been trained on responsible marine fishing and we've adopted a convention that obliges us to respect our profession. We use conventional nets, we've stopped catching small fish, observe spawning periods, etc. – but other people don't care, so those of us who abide by the law look like idiots. We can't do anything even when we catch people red-handed, as we don't have the power to stop them or even threaten them. There doesn't seem to be any coordinated effort to crack down on illegal fishing in Madagascar, especially in our area.

How can the P3DM process help this deteriorating situation?

Tsiza Ernest: Everyone has a responsibility to do something, from ministerial bodies and the regional Directorate for Fisheries to town hall officials and individual fishermen. The relevant authorities have been lobbied repeatedly, the current law condemns illegal fishing but is ignored, and the authorities seem to find it hard to get different members of the fishing industry together around the table. That's why the P3DM process is so powerful, because it brings all the protagonists together around the model at the same place and the same time. Everyone has a chance to voice their concerns, defend their position, share their ideas and put their cards on the table. That's how the idea of developing an internal convention (Dina) came up and was supported by the town hall and the Regional Directorate for Fisheries. This convention is agreed by local actors from the fishing industry at the commune and district level and should lead to the demarcation of our local marine area, proper internal organisation and discipline, a closed fishing season, standardised equipment and finally to sanctions. The idea of registering pirogues and issuing fishermen with cards also emerged during the exercise, so that we know who should and shouldn't be fishing in our waters. We were strongly advised to update the model so we can improve the Dina, so it better reflects the current situation and takes account of future changes. After validating the regulatory texts through the Dina, the town hall and DRP also plan to create a platform for all actors in our local fishing industry, to ensure that activities in this sector are properly coordinated.

How will this help you and your fellow fishermen?

Tsiza Ernest: For me personally, it confirmed that what I have learned and achieved over the years still stands up. We fishermen learn everything on the job: the structure of coral and reefs, the location of lobster and prawn spawning grounds, how to identify danger areas, quicksand, etc. I was amazed that you can see all of this on the model we made together – older villagers, fishery technicians, the whole community. The model shows that our knowledge still holds true, confirms everything we know about fishing. Now I feel proud of myself, that what I've been doing for all these years stands up on a scientific basis! I'm aware that my knowledge is limited and imprecise – I had a vague idea that there were mangroves and spawning grounds in certain areas, but didn't have detailed information about their size, depth or area ... That's what's so great about the 3-D map, because it gives all the information on distance, depth, size, temperature, date, etc. And the P3DM exercise gave me ideas about what I can do in the future to reduce damage, stabilise the situation and plan projects. My family also learned a lot from the process, they've become active partners and take an interest in issues that affect marine fishing. The model showed my wife how rich our coastline is, and since then she's really helped the association lobby the municipal authorities. Our sons also learned a huge amount about the fishing environment in our area from the 3-D model – it's a quick, easy and direct way of transferring knowledge.

What are your plans for the future?

Tsiza Ernest: Once things have settled down a bit, I can get on with my own plans to increase production and move into high-end products such as lobster, oysters, mussels, etc. But there's a lot to be done before that can happen: fishermen need to be trained, the value chain has to be cleaned up, resources made available, and fishermen need to work together. We also need measures to support the development of other income-generating activities during the closed season.

Another thing we want to do is create a protected area within our fishing grounds, a 'marine park' that will be used responsibly and sustainably so that we can safeguard the future of our industry. This area will be a reference point, a showcase so that all our neighbours can see how environmentally sound fishing can be done. We'll need to use P3DM and make a special model of the 'park' showing all the information and especially the regulations relating to this area. During the P3DM process, the regional director of fisheries also highlighted the need to set up a federation of fishermen's associations, as this can provide an important platform for fishermen to discuss and exchange ideas and ultimately negotiate directly with different partners. I think P3DM can play a key role in getting all fishermen onto the same wavelength. And finally, I'd like all the other villages and neighbouring communes to have their own models because giving every fisherman access to the same information and knowledge will help prevent conflicts and contribute to the development of the sector.

Interview by Mamy Andriatiana