In this remote community in southwest Madagascar, women fish for octopus in the shallows while the men take fishing boats out to deeper waters. In order to catch their prey, the women wait for the tide to recede, gather their children and spears, and head out to the reef flats where the octopus hide in their dens. (© Kame Westerman)
Editor’s note: In honor of Conservation International’s (CI) 30th anniversary, this is the second post in an occasional series called “My ‘aha!’ moment,” in which Conservation International staff reflect on moments of insight or discovery that paved the way for their careers in conservation. On International Women’s Day, CI Gender Advisor Kame Westerman reflects on a realization she had while working with octopus fishers in Madagascar. Read other posts in this series.
I was sitting on a narrow bench in the community center — a hot, dim room lit only by small windows and bright sunlight streaming in through cracks in the wooden walls. Outside, the sound of waves hitting the beach only 20 feet away and a slight dry breeze from inland provided some relief. At the front of the room stood Roger Samba an energetic man with graying hair and bright, kind eyes. He held the audience captive, leading them through the annual planning process for the local octopus fishery closures.
In this remote, arid region of southwest Madagascar, octopus is the area’s main income source, providing much-needed cash for nearly every family. For years now, the communities in this region have been closing off certain areas of their reef flats — where reef and shoreline meet — for several months at a time to allow the fishery to recover. It has proven very successful, both biologically and economically, and has been replicated around the region, including in CI co-managed sites.
Octopus are caught by putting a spear into the animal’s den, twisting the spear slowly around until the octopus’ tentacles wrap together, and carefully extracting the whole bundle. (© Kame