Nelly Bassily | August 3, 2009
It’s three o’clock in the morning and the competition is about to start. Thirty-five fishers are on board their canoes at Port Vohémar, northeastern Madagascar. They wait for the signal to go. One fisher says: “I hope to win this time because I am well prepared.” They get the green light from the jury and they are off.
Four hours later, the fishers return. They are judged on their speed and the number of fish they catch. Also, the size of their nets. The mesh must be at least 25 millimetres to avoid catching small fish. Local fisher Jean-Paul is declared the winner. He is very happy to take home the prize – 800,000 Madagascar ariary (about 410 American dollars or 290 Euros).
But this competition is about more than taking top prize. It’s part of an initiative to preserve fish stocks.
The Ministry of Fisheries and a dozen fishing companies sponsor the competition. It goes hand in hand with a training course on sustainable fishing. Through the course, fishers are taught how to use large mesh nets. They learn which seasons to avoid so that fish can breed and replenish stocks. They also learn to preserve fish through salting and smoking.
Aimé Jaomiary is an officer with the Ministry of Fisheries. He says anglers used to fish throughout the year. As a result, the coastline and lakes were nearly empty. Fishers began heading further and further offshore in search of fish.
Fishing is the main source of income for many people in Vohémar. Overfishing was threatening their livelihood.
Through the competition and course, fish stocks are returning. Dieudonné Sabotsy is a local fisher who took the course. He didn’t know that May to September is breeding time for fish. Now, he respects the fishing and non-fishing seasons. During the periods of rest, he sells smoked fish. This way, Mr. Sabotsy earns enough income to feed his family year round.
Fishers who win the competition may have other reasons to celebrate. Emilio Ampizara won the first competition in 2005. He used the prize money to purchase three canoes and four nets. Now he earns extra money renting them to other fishers.