The fishermen in Sarodrano, a coastal village in south-west
Two widows, Josiany Celestinym, 60, and
The reasons for this decline - which researchers and conservationists agree could get far worse over the next decade - are many and various.
Together they tell a story of lacklustre monitoring, poor management and economic pressure in a country where, according to the
The island nation of
A wide western continental shelf is home to extensive mangrove swamps and coral reef ecosystems, which marine biologist
Unlike the rainforests on land, sea systems have the advantage that they can recover from degradation,
The country has just three vessels and nine speedboats to monitor domestic fisheries or protect its waters from illegal fishing boats, according to the
According to the study, published in the journal Marine Policy, fleets from
His study compared official data--declared by fishing companies to the
It found that since 1986 the EU has been declaring catches of 10,000 tonnes each year. But the report estimates that real catches are likely to have been closer to 18,000 tonnes per year. Actual fish catches in
An Asian long-line fleet also operates in Malagasy waters. The report estimates its unreported catches to be up to 50,000 tonnes per year.
"Except for the 1991-1994 period with legal catches varying around 6,000-8,000 tonnes per year, no official access agreements exist between
While no one makes the accusation on record, many working in the field suspect that Madagascan government institutions are colluding with foreign fishing companies, granting licences for free or for low prices in return for bribes.
Illegal scuba diving for sea cucumbers happens openly along the island's west coast. High demand in Asian markets has made these elongated edible sea creatures some of the world's most valued marine commodities.
But the biggest scandal, according to
"The Malagasy people eat [the turtles], as well as export them alive to
Sharks are also the victims of poor monitoring, according to the Le Manach study. Total catches of sharks taken by both domestic and foreign fishers in
"The Malagasy have been exporting shark fins since the 1890s, as it used to be that every Chinese wanted shark fin soup at his wedding. This obsession has diminished somewhat, but is not completely gone,"
Whether it stems from official corruption or merely a lack of commitment to oversight, overfishing--either by foreign vessels or locals--jeopardises not only the delicate marine ecosystems, but also the livelihood of
For most of the 70,000 Malagasy who live along the south-west coast, fishing is a crucial source of nutrition and income since agriculture is virtually impossible in this arid region.
The fishermen in these villages also catch finfish,
In the fishing communities near Velondriake, a locally-managed marine area also in the south-west, locally-caught seafood is the protein source in 99% of household meals. An average of 82.4% of all household income is directly generated from fishing and gleaning, according to Ms Barnes-Mauthe's analysis.
The region's fishermen extracted about 5,524 tonnes of fish and invertebrates in 2010 primarily from coral reefs, of which 83% was sold, generating revenues of nearly
But environmentalists agree that traditional fishermen and their destructive methods cause the most damage to coral reefs.
"They use small mesh nets or even mosquito nets...trample on the reef, or use poisons, stun the fish with spear guns; they overharvest and dive for sea cucumbers,"
The local authorities are not doing much to stop it. "The ... government is often reluctant to enforce the law when a practice is popular, like forbidding people to fish with small mesh nets," says
This practice gives octopus and fish a chance to recover. More than 50 communities along this 400km of coastline have since created reserves.
Ideally, fishing communities close up a reserve permanently and wait for the spillover effect. This occurs once the fish have been allowed to breed inside and fishing can be done around the protected zone. This process can take about five years.
"It's very hard to convince subsistence fishers to permanently close a productive fishing ground,"
Closing an area for a few months to increase the catches of a fast-growing and short-lived species like octopus, however, is feasible.
"It sells the idea of a longer closure for other marine life,"
The strategy has been so successful that the government established a project of this kind all along the south west coast in 2007, financed by the
"They set up a platform, got collectors involved and since 2006 have imposed a six-week closure of the whole area every year from December to January, while also expanding village-based reserves along
It will take sustained political will, and many more efforts like this, to reverse the trend of coastal degradation and the destruction of ocean life.
While overseas fleets continue to deplete the waters unchecked, and locals fish with destructive methods, the slide will continue, jeopardising not only aquatic life but also the livelihood of
In the meantime, the fishers and gleaners of Sarodrano village face an uncertain future. "Ever since we were children, we went out to look for oysters," Ms Vonce says. "Now there is nothing left in the sea, we are not sure what to do."
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