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Crafting a new kind of marine sanctuary

Story by WWF July 8th, 2014

Photos by WWF Photographer James Morgan

Gorgeous beaches, pristine coral reefs, marine life ranging from humpback whales weighing 40 tons to transparent shrimp smaller than a thumbnail. Coastal Mozambique may seem like paradise, but the people who live here must work incredibly hard to make ends meet. Their well-being is linked directly to the health of the ocean – the main source of their daily food and income.

Mafamede island is ringed by a coral reef that supports an astonishing, but dwindling, array of marine life. This is what draws fishermen from the town of Angoche and other nearby villages.

Unfortunately, the island increasingly draws fishermen from much farther afield as well, and current Mozambican law has not yet given locals exclusive access to their traditional fishing grounds. That is part of why WWF is here – to work with communities and authorities to design a fisheries management plan that works for people and nature.

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Since 2008, WWF and partner organization CARE have been collaborating to develop marine sanctuaries here. The idea is to balance the diverse needs of many kinds of people with the health of the ecosystems on which they rely.

Primeiras e Segundas is Mozambique’s first “Environmental Protection Area” and covers more than 4,020 square miles. WWF and CARE are working together with government and communities to translate 10 years of scientific studies, community engagement, ranger programs and education into a management plan. We are listening to, training, and seeking new opportunities for fishermen up and down the coast, as well as for farmers inland.

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The haul in one net includes anchovy, whiting, mackerel, goat fish, toothpony, kingfish, grunts and croakers, along with young snapper, sweetlip and grouper. “All kinds of fish are good,” the fisherman says with a thumbs-up signal.

Among the common styles of fishing in the area, seine fishing is one of the most labor-intensive. Crews of 10 to 15 fishermen paddle or sail a short distance offshore, drape a weighted seine net (also called a dragnet) across a stretch of water, return to shore and then, in a painstaking choreographed effort, pull the net ashore over the span of a few hours.

Some fishermen use nets with holes large enough to allow smaller fish to escape. Others use fine mosquito netting – a practice banned since before the country gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Mosquito nets are banned because the tight mesh collects more fish, smaller fish, non-target species (called bycatch) and juveniles of larger species – all of which undermines the fishery’s ability to regenerate.

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Dino Francisco learned to fish from his grandfather and has been on a crew since age 14. Now 23, he says he is proud to have risen to the level of captain. He says his crew of 12 men uses nets designed to let juvenile fish slip away, and that his crew doesn’t directly fish the reef. But more crews need to adopt these good practices.

“Today, the weather is changing, and we don’t know what kind of catch to expect,” Dino says. “When I was young, there were a lot more fish. I don’t know why there are less fish now. In years past, even the fishermen netting off the beach were getting hundreds of different species of fish, but not anymore.”

Artisanal fishers like Dino catch 85 per cent of the fish in Mozambique, and the pressures on these fishermen are increasing every day. In Angoche, a few years ago there were only 10,000 fishers; now there are 12,500. As the concentration grows, WWF is looking at ways to help the fishermen and protect the resource that supports them.

Fisherman and farmer Ishmael Saïd says, “The project is helping our understanding of the ocean and how to keep it healthy. The number of fishermen here has been growing in recent years, so we need to understand how to protect the oceans, so people can survive.”

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Video: the story from land to sea

Footnote: All photos © WWF-US / James Morgan. Author: Alex MacLennan. Edited for Exposure by Gretchen Lyons.
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