After studying, I was selected for a one-year research projectwith the United Nations in New York and Vancouver, at the University of British Columbia. My research was on strategies to improve the governance of fisheries in Madagascar. My conclusion was that Madagascar’s marine resources were declining and urgent action was needed. We had to empower coastal communities in the management of the country's resources.
MIHARI was created in 2012 and it covers all locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs) in Madagascar, which are marine areas managed or co-managed by coastal communities. Before MIHARI, the LMMA communities were isolated. Most of them are in remote areas and they didn’t have any opportunities to exchange information or to talk with government officials and get support. Today, the network is composed of more than 200 community associations and 25 supporting organisations. They are still spatially isolated, but they are able to communicate via MIHARI and are able to meet during LMMA forums.
The network has three main goals: the first is to represent the voices of small-scale fishers in Madagascar at national and international level. The second is to build the capacity of small-scale fishers in fisheries management skills, because access to formal education in fishing communities is quite low. We want to train people so that they can become local leaders, able to properly manage the marine wildlife populations on which they depend.
The third goal is to secure sustainable funding for those fishing communities, because for now they are dependent on NGO support and other funders. If the funders and the NGOs leave, we need to make sure that those fishing communities are able to continue their work. There is currently no legal framework in Madagascar that recognises LMMAs, so we are working on lots of advocacy with the national government.
In Madagascar, there is conflict and misunderstandingbetween traditional small-scale fishers and industrial fishers. We helped the communities write a motion to the government calling for a reserved fishing zone for traditional fishers. In July 2018, we met with the Minister of Fisheries in Antananarivo [Madagascar’s capital city] and he agreed to establish the reserved area. We are now in the process of formalising the legal framework.
Fishing communities are aware of the importance of sustainability. They are the guardians of the sea, and are intimately connected to their local marine environments. Most LMMA communities have put in place what we call ‘permanent marine reserves’ and/or ‘temporary fishery closures’ (areas that are closed to fishing for several months a year). These measures help the restoration and the regeneration of particular habitats or species, such as octopus or mackerel. If you mention this in the capital city no one knows about it. But if we are still able to eat shrimps or crabs today and in the future, it means that in those remote areas there are people agreeing not to over-harvest the shrimp and crab population.
But of course, we do not work with all fishing communities.There are some that are not yet involved with LMMA associations or our network. If they are not included they do not always respect the local conventions and may not comply with the closures. So this is what I will do with the Whitley Award – build MIHARI’s ability to engage all of Madagascar's fishing communities and organise awareness-raising campaigns and training sessions.
There are other challenges. I’m a woman working within a male-dominated network. I can say that I am well-respected, but sometimes it's not easy. We know that there are many women involved with fisheries, but it is often difficult to reach them. Traditionally, women are expected to take care of the children and the housework; they often cannot leave their home for two weeks to attend a MIHARI event. We are planning to organise a national event called the ‘fisherwomen leadership programme’ where 30 women leaders will be trained in self-confidence, communication and leadership.
Everyone in Madagascar should recognise that the small-scale fishing communities are doing amazing work to make sure that our grandchildren will still be able to catch fish. We need to support them, and we need to recognise their work.
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