Malagasy Octopus Fishery

“Fishing is a way of life along the remote south-west coastline of Madagascar known for some of the largest coral reef systems in the Western Indian Ocean. Over 90 per cent of adults in the region are fishers or known locally as ‘gleaners’ which involves going out at low tide to collect primarily octopus but also snails and sea cucumbers from the reef flats. “The octopus is a hugely important fishery to the local communities,” says Sophie Benbow, of Blue Ventures and Project Coordinator of the Regional Octopus Project, “and is now one of the largest export commodities from the south-west.”

Prior to 2002, the villages exploiting octopus for commercial export were limited to those close to the regional capital of Toliara. However, in 2002 the main octopus collectors expanded their range to the whole of the southwest coast, leading to rapid exploitation of octopus and anecdotal reports of decreases in catch.  Blue Ventures[1], together with local communities decided to trial temporary closed areas to see if these could stem the decline[2].

The first temporary closures for octopus were established in 2004, and have gradually grown in number. “We started with a temporary closure in the remote community of Andavadoaka,” says Sophie, “but through local demand have now expanded to 50 other communities extending along 400km of the coastline.” One of the initial problems was the success of the closures attracting fishers from outside the communities. Yet since the first pilot, the area covered by the temporary closures has increased, spreading the benefits and reducing the incentives for free riders. Felicite from Andavadoaka (who has been fishing for 35 years) sums up the benefits to villagers, “We have experienced an increase in octopus catch and an increase in the individual size of octopus”.

“The temporary closures of octopus fishing grounds have been immensely successful,” says Sophie. “We have found that all of the closures are profitable at the village level and analysis of seven years of landings data has shown that individual fishers are also benefitting, with each fisher catching 5.9 kg of octopus per day on average after the closures, compared to 2.3 kg before.” 

The latest development has been an MSC pre-assessment to determine whether the south-west Madagascar octopus fishery could be certified, and thereby gain international recognition for the significant strides in sustainability. “It would be the cherry on the top,” says Sophie. “This way the fishery can illustrate how local communities are able to manage their own octopus fishery in a sustainable way.” Sophie also explains how new buyers have been attracted; “Several international import companies did not know that Madagascar produced octopus before this work began.” 

The next steps for the fishery are to develop a fisheries improvement plan and set up a regional management committee. As Roger Samba, President of Velondriake[3], explains, “the villages are now working together for one goal, which is managing our resources to sustain our livelihoods”.

Vital Statistics

Species: Reef octopus (Octopus cyanea)

Fishing method: Spear-fishing

Country: Madagascar

Ocean: Indian Ocean                                                                

Fishery tonnage: 600,000 kg/year – average (Ministry of Fisheries/Regional fisheries data)

Markets: Southern Europe: France, Spain, Italy, Greece & Portugal

Before intervention/s – 2004

Transition After intervention/s – 2011
Economic indicator/s

Social indicators

Environmental indicators

Fleet indicator

Cost of interventions

Economic indicator/s

Social indicators

Environmental indicators

Fleet indicator

CPUE in 2004 2.4kg/fisher/day 600,000kg/year at average 1,300 Malagasy Ariary (MGA) per kg = 780million MGA per yr (approx. US$372,000) Wages Less than $2/day Reported declining catch (but no data to prove this) - Administrative costs of a single round of closures is approx. $500 (including meetings, communications, additional monitoring of opening day catch) Village level data collectors receive $14/month. Collection has occurred in between 5 and 30 villages since 2004 CPUE in 2010 3.5kg/fisher/day Prices/kg remained relatively stable although last 2 openings the communities have negotiated better rate from 1,000 Malagasy Ariary (MGA) per kilo to 1400 MGA on opening days Wages: $2/day Current level of exploitation is not negatively affecting octopus stocks. Recent stock assessment modelling for the Velondriake region between 2008-2010 (time period restricted due to data availability) shows Biomass/Biomass at Maximum Sustainable Yield is greater than 1 (B/BMSY=>1) and Fishing mortality/Fishing Mortality at the Maximum Sustainable Yield is less than 1 (F/FMSY=<1) indicating fishing effort within Velondriake given current management model is sustainable Increased (population increase and migration from inland tribes)

[1] Blue Ventures is a British marine conservation NGO:

[2] Collaboration also with the Madagascar Institute of Marine Sciences (Institut Halieurtique des Sciences Marines – IHSM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society

[3] The largest locally managed marine area in south-westMadagascar and the site of the pilot octopus closures (