Mozambique: Helping fishing communities help themselves

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Mozambique: Helping fishing communities help themselves

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Fishermen employed by the Institute for Development of Small-Scale Fisheries experiment with ecologically sound fishing nets in Moma Town.

Small-scale fishing communities in Mozambique struggle to eke out a living in remote areas with depleting resources. An IFAD-supported project has helped build artisanal fishers' capacity to improve their livelihoods while reducing pressure on resources, and to link with higher authorities to ensure that their concerns are voiced at the ministerial level.

It's 6.30 in the morning and the sun is already high in the sky. The beach on Quelelene Island, close to Angoche in the province of Nampula in northern Mozambique, is thronged with people.

Many of them are pulling up nets to unload and distribute the day's catch. Others are traders, come from Angoche to buy. The buckets are filling with anchovies and shrimp – a typical by-catch of these shallow waters – as well as with much larger fish.

Like other small fishing communities up and down the long coast of Mozambique, the 5,000 inhabitants of Quelelene depend almost entirely on the resources of the sea for survival. It's a hard, mostly subsistence existence. The villagers keep a few goats, chickens and ducks. Fruit and vegetables bought in Angoche are expensive. Fishing is the principal activity and source of income.

Conditions in these fishing communities have changed significantly over the last 15 years, thanks to the work of the National Institute for the Development of Small-Scale Fisheries (IDPPE). IDPPE has helped set up community fisheries councils (CCPs) to represent the needs and concerns of fishing communities at the government level and to teach artisanal fishers the importance of managing marine resources sustainably. Its work is focused on the Sofala Bank area, a 950-kilometre stretch of coastline running from the provinces of Sofala and Zambezia to Nampula. Sofala Bank is a unique and distinct coastal ecosystem. Its shallow waters are a sensitive area – a breeding ground for many species.

Since 2002 the IFAD-funded Sofala Bank Artisanal Fisheries Project (PPABAS) has supported the important work of IDPPE by improving the basic living conditions and incomes of poor fishing communities. In addition to strengthening the CCPs, the project has built health centres, schools, wells, and roads connecting fishing communities with market centres.

New techniques for better catches

When IDPPE first came to the pilot area of Angoche, fish stocks were declining at an alarming rate. "IDPPE encouraged us to form an association and took some of us to Malawi to learn from fishing communities there," says Alibacar Faque, president of the Quelelene CCP, one of the first councils to be set up. "We learned the importance of adopting new techniques to conserve fish stocks. We immediately stopped fishing with mosquito nets because we realized that the mesh was too fine and we were killing juvenile fish before they had time to develop. Using the new nets has improved our catch, and we are also getting bigger fish."

"Now it's a question of getting the message across to other fishing communities," he adds.

By bringing artisanal fishers together within the CCPs and providing them with a forum to voice their concerns, IDPPE extension workers were able to identify a number of critical challenges. Perhaps the most urgent was the problem of conflict with industrial and semi-industrial trawlers.

Trawlers and small boats were fighting for the same space and resources. Using testimony gathered in the community councils, IDPPE was able to recommend that the government designate space for artisanal fishers. The Ministry of Fisheries introduced a three-mile limit from the shore, to be used only by small-scale fishers. Although there are still problems of enforcement, the new regulation has made a big difference to artisanal fishers, and has brought better catches, too.

"Our nets were being destroyed on a daily basis," says Faque. "Every day five or six nets would be cut by passing trawlers. Now we have just three or so cases a year."

Another achievement has been adjustment of the closed season for artisanal shrimp fishers. Previously they observed the same regulations as the industrial fleets (initially adopted for three months, the closed season has been extended to six months), and they either went hungry for long months or took the risk of flaunting the rules. With the new exemption, the closed season for artisanal fisheries has been reduced to one month and expanded from Nampula province to the whole Sofala Bank area.

For government and scientists, CCPs are an important source of information and data on fishing patterns and resource depletion. IDPPE works closely with the Institute of Fisheries Research, which has been collating and analysing information since 1997 to build up a picture of marine ecosystems and migration patterns along the Nampula coast. This information feeds into government policy decisions aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of fishing resources.

Looking to the future

The community of Sangage lies 35 kilometres north of Angoche. The journey used to take three hours by truck. Today, the same journey takes half an hour, thanks to the project's provision of a new road. The village is now better linked to the outside world and to local markets.

Thirteen years since it was established in 1998, the Sangage CCP has grown from 10 members to 14 (comprising 13 men and 1 woman), and has been officially recognized. Group members now take part in district and provincial meetings. They contribute to a fund to allow representatives to attend these meetings and also operate a small revolving credit system within the community.

Little by little, thanks to the hard work of IDPPE officers, community councils have acquired new members – thus increasing their ability to monitor resources, control and protect fishing grounds, and educate other communities about the importance of resource management. Representatives have travelled to India, Nigeria, Thailand and the United Republic of Tanzania to learn about fishing and processing techniques from other small fishing communities.

There are now 63 community councils in the Sofala Bank area, 18 of which are officially recognized by the Ministry of Fisheries. Acquiring official recognition has been another achievement of IDPPE's campaign on behalf of artisanal fishing communities, and an important step towards connecting these grass-roots organizations with higher authorities.

The councils are the foundation of an efficient system of linkages from local to provincial to national government. When councils have official recognition, they can participate in meetings with district and provincial authorities, which in turn communicate directly with the government's Commission of Fisheries Administration. This system ensures that the Ministry of Fisheries is informed of the coastal situation and is able to introduce regulations to ensure that all stakeholders are protected, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and to safeguard the sustainability of resources.

The IFAD-supported project has built a first-sale market in Sangage, with areas for processing and preserving the fish. In its final phase, it has invested in promotion of the fisheries value chain. "We have established fish market facilities equipped with ice plants and cold storage containers, and have built roads connecting small fishing communities to the main market corridors," says Rui Falcão, project coordinator.

Now that solid foundations have been laid for connection, collaboration and the beginnings of commercial expansion, a new IFAD-supported fisheries project, the Artisanal Fisheries Promotion Project (ProPESCA), which opened in 2011, will build on the considerable progress PPABAS has made in support of fishing communities and their livelihoods. With a mandate to increase the volume of higher-value fish sustainably, as well as the income from traded fish, the new project will continue to develop the fisheries value chain and to work towards creating a dynamic market environment along the entire coast of Mozambique.