When Ogojiii spoke to Rodrigues, she was diving in areas open to controlled fishing in the Quirimbas Islands National Park in the north.
Writer: Mercedes Sayagues
Images: Mercedes Sayagues, José Forjaz
“Everything is under pressure along the coast,” says Maria Joao Rodrigues, a marine biologist with the World Wildlife Fund.
When Ogojiii spoke to Rodrigues, she was diving in areas open to controlled fishing in the Quirimbas Islands National Park in the north. “The coral reefs look healthy,” she says, “but I see fewer fish and of smaller size“.
The problem, she explains, is “Mozambique’s open fishing system, with no control of fish caught and number of nets, just a bit of mesh-size control. Night light-luring fishing is not regulated as it should be.”
She sees a fish stock crisis looming in 10 years. “Everything is fished here: at low tide, women and kids catch octopus, clams and the endangered sea cucumber, likely for Chinese traders. Men hunt with spears.”
And, as agricultural soils along the coast become less fertile, more people turn to fishing for food and income. More than half of the population scrapes by on US$1 a day.
Poor environmental practices don’t help. People destroy mangroves and coastal forest for fuel and charcoal.
Mangroves shelter shrimp, crab, squid and fish nurseries, as well as protecting the coast against storm surges.
In spite of awareness campaigns, fishing with mosquito nets, or chicocotas, continues, especially in estuaries. Their tiny holes - smaller than a mosquito – trap young fish and deplete already dwindling fish stocks. Estuaries are crucial breeding grounds for high-value fish and crustaceans.
“Using chicocota nets in estuaries is one of the major threats to the sustainability of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries,” says Alex Benkenstein, author of a 2013 study on Mozambican small-scale fisheries for the Johannesburg-based South African Institute for International Affairs.
Benkenstein saw improved controls near big towns, but these faded in remote areas. Community fishing councils and fisheries officials find it “hard to deal aggressively with perpetrators because they are often fishers who are very poor,” he adds.
Other problems are insufficient landing jetties and cold storage, lack of electricity for refrigeration, the high cost of ice, poor roads, poor protection and cleanliness during handling, transport and selling; and unsanitary town markets. These factors translate into high post-harvest losses of up to 50%.
“Fish is captured, but it doesn’t reach the market while fresh,” says Custodio Mucavel, programme officer with the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development. “Salted or smoked fish loses quality and sells for less.”
Her wish list for Mozambique’s artisanal fishers includes:
Efficient shing tools - boats, engines and nets
Access to markets, roads and price information
Refrigeration equipment and cheap ice
Investment in aquaculture to yield more protein and income
Improved agricultural productivity for mixed livelihoods