As the 4x4 rounded the corner of the sandy track, the sight of the vivid turquoise shallows stretching out to the cobalt blue ocean took my breath away. Even after spending a year on the opposite side of the Mozambique channel in southern Madagascar, with a pristine white beach on my doorstep, my first glimpse of Quiwia is breathtaking.
Quiwia, a small village in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, is also the site of the country’s first periodic reef fishery closure. The closure was inspired by an exchange visit involving local community members to neighbouring Madagascar’s Velondriake LMMA earlier this year, where communities witnessed how Madagascar’s Vezo communities are managing their marine resources through the same periodic fisheries closures.
We are here with ZSL and AMA (Associação do Meio Ambiente) to find out more about the Our Sea Our Life Project (OSOL), in particular the project’s efforts to establish locally-led fisheries monitoring systems. Blue Ventures is excited to be the newest OSOL partner, joining forces to support vulnerable communities to manage local fisheries and improve the resilience of coastal ecosystems and communities.
The fish markets of Moçimboa da Praia - makeshift tables and boxes on the beach, are alive with activity, centred around fishers, bartering, selling and peddling their latest catches. Huge groups swarm the waves of small fishing boats as they land; a combination of community spirit helping de-rig sails alongside vibrant entrepreneurialism, with many fish being sold before they reach the shore.
Catches range from large crab and lobster, iridescent squid and vibrant green prawns, to small mountains of tiny, juvenile fish, the latter caught with ingenious but ultimately devastating nets, constructed from fine mosquito net mesh and rice sacks.
Like most of the coastal population in the Cabo Delgado province these communities depend almost exclusively on the sea for their income. At 60, Salimo Amande Maguaya looks half his age and is still fishing actively. Originally from Palma, the largest nearby town, he spends the dry season living and fishing in a small migrant camp on the outskirts of Quiwia.
Fish scales fly in every direction from the reef fish he is preparing as he explains how he uses fish traps, a kind of baited basket left overnight, to entice fish. Every day he checks his ten traps, which land him up to 20kg of fish each day, enough to feed him and his wife and still some to sell to the local collector. Salimo doesn’t check his traps at weekends, and after his usual extended three-day weekly break, recognising Friday as a day of prayer, he enjoys a bountiful catch of up to 100 kg of fish.
With the help of his extended family, the collector scales, guts and prepares the fish to be dried on large racks in the sun. Drying is a necessity here due to the lack of refrigeration facilities; a symptom of the remoteness and lack of infrastructure, including electricity, in these villages.
Despite its unappetising appearance, dried fish fetches a higher price than fresh fish here - sometimes almost double - due to the longer shelf life. If fishermen catch larger fish which are coveted by restaurants and hotels in local towns, and fetch higher prices, they will often phone ahead on their return to shore, where a motorbike with a cooler box will be waiting, ready to transport the prized fish back; an unexpected bonus since the introduction of mobile networks on this coast.
In Quirinde, an hour south along the coast from Quiwia, we meet a group of women, wading out into the shallows with mosquito nets. As if in a military operation, the ladies split into teams; those responsible for nets and those responsible for driving fish towards them. With practiced precision they advance towards the nets, splashing and chasing fish in the right direction enthusiastically.
With each round of hunting, scoping and splashing producing only a handful of small fish in each of the nets, a huge effort for scant reward. Despite this, the women and girls continue with this social fishing activity for several hours with every little fish providing an important food source.
Yet this fishing technique - highly destructive to the underlying lagoon ecosystem - illustrates the challenges the OSOL project will encounter in its efforts to improve the sustainability of Cabo Delgado’s fisheries, where tradition, dependence, and social meaning are so closely intertwined with unsustainable fishing methods.
Blue Ventures will be working with the project partners over the next three years to assist communities in this challenge, supporting fisheries monitoring, periodic reef closures and implementing a smartphone based monitoring system with the aim of sustaining this vital resource for generations to come.