the role of me and the NGO I represent
As you gaze upon the waters of Bazaruto Archipelago, you wonder about the almost mythical Dugong, referred to by some as the mermaids of the ocean. Once you move beyond this, you may then appreciate the abundance of sea life – schools of fish swimming in the clear waters, tuna fish jumping as they are being predated upon, or predating, dolphins gliding past, an occasional turtle pops up his head surreptitiously, and seabirds follow the life beneath the water with a keen eye. You may also spy the traditional fishers going about their business – standing at their sails looking forward, or rowing together towards some distant location. Colourful. A brief wave, and you, too, continue on your business.
Who are the fishers of Bazaruto? The 36km island of one’s imagination, a biodiversity hotspot, the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. I have spent almost the last year and a half on this question.
There are four families on Bazaruto island – which make up a community of roughly 3500 people. The Madivatches, the Motundos, the Nhadaves and the Zivanes. These families originate from the Ndau’s in central Mozambique and subsequently, their language and traditions are not the same as the mainlanders in the adjacent districts of Inhassoro and Vilankulos. The people of Bazaruto sustain themselves primarily through the fishing business, where the primary gear in use are seine-nets. As of June 2017, I was informed that there were 72 seine-net owners. The seine-nets are generally of 160-500m in length, with mesh sizes of 0.5-1.5 inches. Other forms of fishing are also partaken in: hand and line, spear fishing and traditional trap nets. All fishermen use traditional dhows as their main form of transport to the fishing sites. There are three carpenters on the island who have built the dhows of all the fishermen. Some are man powered (row-boats), some wind-powered (sailboats) and some diesel powered. Most fishing takes place on the landfacing (west) side of the island. Some fishermen hand line on the open ocean side of the island. There are the managers (or net-owners), the boat captains, the labourers who row the boats, pull the nets and process the fish (mostly women), and the traders who buy fish from the fishermen, dry or freeze the fish and then sell them forward along the value chain. It is not uncommon for one family to divide these roles amongst themselves.
The islanders are facing rapid change. Until the end of the civil war, almost no-one owned a diesel engine dhow. It would take two days to a week to reach the mainland on wind-powered boats. There was no clinic. There were no schools. There were 10 net owners. Today, there are subsidized community transport boats (it now takes four to seven hours to reach the mainland depending where you are). There was one clinic, and now two, since April 2017. There are plans to upgrade the central clinic substantially. Pregnant women are now given mosquito nets. There are three schools which teach to grade 7, one which, since January 2017, teaches to grade 8. There are promises of electricity. There are 72 net owners.
I recently interviewed 18 fishers between the ages of 21-83. I wanted to figure out what their perspective on life was, on the fishery and on the future. I am generalising their responses, but this was the gist of it. Happiness is found through fishing and supporting ones family. When questioned on sadness, mostly the responses were, “I don’t get sad”. But with a bit of pressing for an answer, sadness is felt when going fishing and not catching anything, when a family member falls sick. A fishers dream is to expand his fishing business and build a concrete block house. Fishers see their futures looking bleak. Each year there are less fish, each year the fishing season is less predictable, there are more fishers, more boats. I didn’t mention that the climate was changing globally, that the sea levels were rising. I couldn’t bring myself to ask, and so you know that there are less and less fish, an unpredictable ocean, more fishermen – what are you going to do about it?
It is easier to talk about these things when there are tangible solutions, but when you are a fishermen on a remote island with no capital, how do you even start. People are content and the pressing issue is focused on how are we going to eat tomorrow.