BEYOND CATCHThe broader impacts of community engagement in fisheries management

Community-led management of fisheries has now taken root in countries throughout the western Indian Ocean and the Coral Triangle. In these places, we and our partners support communities to manage their marine environments for sustainability and resilience, usually initiated using periodic fishery closures as a catalyst to spark interest.

In Madagascar, such periodic closures were initially put in place for octopus fisheries, but are now being used for mangrove crab, lobster, Indian mackerel and even for multi-species fisheries.

These periodic fishery closures can be a simple yet effective tool that demonstrates to communities the power they have to manage their own fisheries. But fishers have reported impacts of these closures that go far beyond increases in the number and size of the target species caught. 

The benefits experienced by communities who have engaged in periodic fishery closures are diverse, and are linked to the consultation, data collection and capacity-building components which are essential to this management approach.

Training community members to collect data gives them and the whole community a better understanding of the dynamics within the fisheries they are monitoring, the value of those fisheries, and how they might need to regulate catch levels.

“By collecting data, the community and the government have realised how much income we get from octopus. Before, we could only say ‘Yes, we have a lot’! By collecting the data and managing our fishery, we now understand our resources better and we feel more secure because we are controlling our resources, ourselves”.

Individuals who are trained in data collection and interpretation may gain a new sense of confidence or involvement with community matters, as a result of that role.

“In Popisi [a community in Indonesia conducting periodic octopus fishery closures], all three data collectors are female. I spoke to one of them who clearly takes great pride in her work. I could see that when we involve women and give them roles, it increases their self-confidence. It’s important that we give women and men equal opportunities to be data collectors.”

Women in Timor-Leste have shown an eagerness to gain new skills and ecological knowledge through fisheries monitoring training. Twenty female data collectors in three communities are now involved in monitoring fish catch, and present the data they collect at village meetings.

This has given them far greater involvement in fisheries management activities than ever before. Village leaders have shown great interest in their fisheries monitoring group – Grupu Monitorizasaun Peskas – and have encouraged them to be more involved in local marine governance and management. 

For example, four female data collectors participated in the local pre-consultation meeting for the national fisheries strategy, bringing the attendance to about one third women.

In Timor-Leste, a traditional customary law known as Tara Bandu is recognised by the government as a legal tool that communities can use to manage natural environments on the land and in the sea. 

The community of Behau used Tara Bandu over 40 years ago, to ban fishing in a very productive section of the reef near their village, through a combination of sacred rituals and formal legislation. However, its use for marine management had waned in recent years. 

With support from Blue Ventures, the community revived and formalised a Tara Bandu to ban all fishing on a section of their reef in 2018, and agreed to trial a periodic closure to help restore the cuttlefish fishery.


Building an understanding of the dynamics of fish stocks through community-based fisheries monitoring, and supporting the implementation of Tara Bandu to allow communities to manage their local coastal areas, has led to a more forward-looking, long-term attitude amongst some:

“The older generation don’t want the Tara Bandu because they are thinking about today, we young people want the Tara Bandu because we are thinking about the future”

There can also be broader, community-level changes as a result of this process. Village members in Indonesia reported better community cohesion and a communal spirit, due to the process of involving all fishers in planning their periodic octopus fishery closure.

“There is no conflict amongst us in the community, for managing our resources. We came and sat together and discussed the regulations for the closure. No one complained, no one took out the markers marking the closed area. This is important for us.”

In the past, communities in Indonesia with customary marine management systems in place had strict rules about the areas any community was allowed to fish in. However, in many places those practices have waned in recent decades, leaving communities unable to defend their traditional fishing areas from migrant fishers and destructive fishing practices. 

Communities can use periodic fishery closures, and the legal documents used to formalise such closures, to engage with other fishing communities and enforce their closure area.

“Village leaders in Sungai Nibung have told us that implementing periodic fishery closures has allowed them to reclaim their local fishing rights.”

Moreover, the process of implementing periodic fishery closures builds skills and leadership within communities.

“Octopus closures bring many benefits to a community. One of the main ones is that a fishery closure has to be introduced to a community alongside a period of capacity-building with a committee. Once the committee has been identified, you have to develop bylaws, have a series of fines and a plan to patrol the area. You need to build capacity to manage finances.... to govern in an equitable way, that builds confidence of the committee themselves to be able to make decisions about management. We’ve seen that that confidence has become strong within these committees, and has even been acknowledged by local government.”

And once that confidence is present within a community:

“I have seen a real empowerment amongst people who previously felt that they had no rights to manage their own resources. They now have the confidence to take initiative within the community, and even to engage with local government authorities to discuss management issues”

“It has really made a very significant difference to community capacity and their belief in themselves, for managing not only their octopus fishery but their entire fishery grounds. I think this will have a huge benefit into the future.”

The process can deliver financial benefits which are felt by all in the community, not just those involved in fisheries.

“Community fishery committees need finances to facilitate their management roles. Funds are needed for fuel for patrol boats or to cover the time of people who would otherwise be out fishing. Through our work in over 15 communities, people have seen that they can actually raise their own money by working with buyers to add a small amount to every kg of octopus that is landed and sold on to buyers.

Some communities implement a levy on the catch after a fishery closure is re-opened - this provides the community with a small fund, which they can use in different ways. In the community of Kukuu in south Pemba, for example, they have funded the foundations for a health clinic and have supplied their football team with football shirts. So apart from seeing the octopus benefit in terms of catch, community members also see a tangible benefit of foregoing fishing in the closure area which extends to the whole community.”

When communities start to manage their own fisheries, the impacts they experience go far beyond improved catch rates and affect individuals, dynamics within communities, and relationships with other stakeholders, as well as the marine environment. Developing management plans for shared fishing grounds brings about cooperation amongst neighbouring communities, building relationships and resilience at a regional level. 

Communities are set on the path to broader community-led marine management, empowered with the skills and resources to address wider and more complex challenges.

In the future, we hope to scientifically document some of these ‘beyond catch’ impacts, to better understand how they contribute to more resilient communities with the capacity and desire to act as stewards of their marine environments.

“Octopus fishery closures empower communities in the longer-term to engage in co-management and sustainable fisheries over a wider area. We use octopus management as an entry point to wider sustainable management and zoning of fisheries areas.”

Produced with contributions from Mwambao, FORKANI, LINI, Planet Indonesia, the community of Darawa (Indonesia) and communities of Atauro, Behau and Manatuto (Timor-Leste).

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