A New Approach Mozambique’s Museum of Fisheries looks inward (3)

Primeiras e Segundas is Mozambique’s first marine sanctuary and Africa’s largest.

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Writer: Mercedes Sayagues

Images: Mercedes Sayagues, José Forjaz

Along the sun-soaked beaches, blue waters and coral reefs of the archipelago Primeiras e Segundas, in northern Nampula province, an experiment is giving hope.

Primeiras e Segundas is Mozambique’s first marine sanctuary and Africa’s largest. Protected by law since 2012, it covers 10 islands and 10 400 square kilometres, home to sea turtles, whales, dolphins, dugongs and a huge wild prawn fishery.

Unlike a national park, in which people are not supposed to live, the sanctuary is a community-managed area with dozens of villages. But locals don’t fish in all areas all the time. Small no-take zones are set aside for fish stock recovery, marked with buoys and patrolled day and night by trained members of the local fishing councils.

The no-take areas are small, less than a square kilometre, so people don’t have to go too far from home to fish. That’s one innovation: usually sanctuaries cover large areas and locals are unhappy.

Armando Cremildo is a marine biologist working in the sanctuary, which has been supported by CARE and World Wildlife Fund since 2008. Then, he recalls, locals complained bitterly about “two big and recurrent problems”: reduced fish catch and soil fertility loss.

Fishers showed biologists which had been the most productive zones. Studies confirmed the old lore was correct. No-take zones were marked in Angoche, Moma, Larde and Pebane districts, with community buy-in.

“The biggest hurdle was government resistance at district, provincial and central level,” says Cremildo. Intense lobbying overcame initial misgivings.

Fish recovery was surprisingly quick. A 2014 study confirmed greater biodiversity and biomass in protected areas and spillover zones. The sanctuary concept proved its value and appears in the Fisheries Law approved in 2014.

“It’s going viral,” says Dan Mullins, director of the CARE-WWF alliance. “We have people from 200km up the coast asking for technical support to set up sanctuaries.”

But things must move slowly. Two key components are community organisation through committees – in the Angoche estuary alone 29 communities work together – and farming extension to improve crops, the second pillar of coastal livelihoods.

Farmers learn mangrove protection and conservation agriculture, mulching to enrich soil and prevent erosion, minimum tillage, and receive cooking lessons to better use cheap and nutritious local crops like cassava leaves, plantains and sweet potatoes. In three years, cassava yields jumped from 3MT/ha to 13MT/ha without the use of chemicals or industrial fertilisers. Improved varieties and restoring soil fertility did the job.

Joao Titus Abacar, 44, is the president of the Union of Artisanal Fishers in Moma, with 143 members. He started fishing with his father at the age of eight after school hours, and his eight children also fish after school.

“We grow up fishing,” says Abacar, who owns a paddle-and-sail canoe named So Pra Ver (Just to See). “And we are building our children’s future through responsible fishing.”

Abacar says fish scarcity started around 1998. Too many fishers, too many trawlers near the shore, he explains. Sceptical at first, he is now a sanctuary supporter. “Things are much better,” he enthuses. “Fish that had vanished have returned. Our families have more food and more money – it works!”

The price of that success is encroachment of fishers from other localities. Mullins would like the new law’s regulations to strengthen community rights: “They need authority to restrict access,” he believes.

Local committees can confiscate the fishing gear of trespassers, but so far have found ways to defuse conflict. The solution, says Cremildo, is to build strong grassroots structures: “Fishers must first go to the committee, learn the rules and agree to respect the system”.

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