Stories and Simulations: Compliance and Periodic Octopus Closures in the WIO region

The amazing experts that joined our workshop September 2021.

In September 2021 we hosted a three hour online workshop to present our work and get feedback and discuss together with experts around temporal octopus closure models in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region. The objectives of this meeting were to:

  1. Reconnect and build on the network established at Wiomsa 2019 and facilitate discussions between expert participants.
  2. Share and discuss findings from our empirical work on perceptions of closures and compliance in Zanzibar.
  3. Share and invite comments on the scope and behaviour of our octopus closure agent-based model.

The workshop demonstrated how a combined fieldwork, modelling and expert consultation process helps to develop systems understanding. The sharing of the fieldwork results through storytelling, painted a deep and rich description of how local fishery actors perceived the closure model’s intricate dilemmas around compliance. The sharing of the agent based model’s design, such as fishery actors and processes around compliance and patrolling, sparked discussions around interactions of the different components in the closure model. These two approaches of studying and presenting the issues around interventions herein the closure model in turn lead to deeper discussions around the social and ecological dynamics embedded in the closure model. 

This blog contains the first part of the Workshop Report, but you can download the full report here.

What experiences and knowledge was shared by participants?

Despite the variety of geographical, cultural and historical realities in which participants situated their work, the social mechanisms of compliance characteristics in Zanzibar were jointly experienced by workshop participants. They highlighted a plethora of factors shaping compliance in their local contexts, such as weather conditions, seasonality of closures and supporting livelihoods and food security. Social consensus was particularly regarded as a key attribute of compliance, the former being influenced by factors such as community consensus prior to starting a closure project, engaging actors such as commercial buyers,the presence of strong leaders and feelings of trust and pride towards closures. On the contrary, participants stated elements like intrusion of outsiders, and kinship relations impeding rule enforcement while blame towards other social groups’ activities also damaged compliance. Participants shared their experiences concerning the technicalities of closures. Here, closure entering schemes (who could enter at what point in time), levies, and income distribution at openings were mentioned, and the importance of allowing for appropriate placement of closures e.g. avoiding coincidence with other protected areas. A learning-by-doing approach for conservation’s success was emphasised,  one considering the geography and history of usage in the chosen closure area. This approach was regarded as an important tool to ensure flexibility and facilitate the achievement of community consensus over closures.

What outstanding questions, concerns & ideas emerged?

On Biological Dynamics: The biological dynamics characteristic of octopus closures were deeply discussed during the workshop, in light of the current quite simple representation of the octopus population model. Depending on the purpose of the current OctoPINTS model (or the usefulness of other future models) the need for including biological and ecological mechanisms were mentioned as these aspects may contribute to a better understanding of these interventions. Notably these mechanisms are not yet fully investigated empirically.

Participants proposed a plethora of dynamics to potentially integrate into the OctoPINTS model, such as growth and replacement rates, spawning potential, habitat preferences, seasonal variability and age-dependent mobility. Climate change was also mentioned as a threat to reef health, leading to higher uncertainty of the above parameters. After considering the various biological factors adding complexity to the current OctoPINTS model, participants asked themselves how much of such complexity was needed if the purpose is looking at compliance and fishery actors’ perceptions of the closure. As adding too much complexity might instead compromise the efficacy of the model. 

On Social Dynamics: Thoughts and questions on social dynamics flourished during the discussion, leaving us with various inspirations for future research and future models. Topics such as community’s heterogeneity and inequality were analysed. Here, questions were raised on the potential for measuring community cohesion levels and their effects on compliance in reality but also how to formalize into the model. Furthermore, individuals’ interaction to closures was examined as uniquely shaping compliance and acceptance. The example of women gleaners was proposed, describing the negative effects that the mismatching of tides and openings might have on their access, income, and ultimately on their acceptance of the closure model. Solutions to tackle intrinsic heterogeneity of communities were advanced away from blaming certain non-compliant groups of people, to promoting the distribution of “disproportional benefits” to those individuals who were the most “disproportionately disadvantaged” (e.g. fisherwomen or octopus dependent skin divers). The diversity of issues across communities was also mentioned. Examples include communities struggling with outsiders entering the fishery, but also positive examples where communities experienced successful projects, e.g. when combined with government funded alternative livelihoods, or previous experience of programmes or interventions helped communities better organize to implement the closure model. To have all different groups in a community involved and have consensus on a new project project, and the question of how to get there was also raised.

Ethical considerations on the contextual setting of non-compliance were raised, highlighting the need to consider global-to-local structures of power, ultimately shaping in some part illegal activities in closures. From here, there was a call for NGOs to take sensitive action at the local scale, specifically the continuous consultations with communities from a project’s start. The question of bottom-up was raised, are these interventions really so if it is often fishery managers and officers who drive and implement the project, in this way closures are still top down, however the top is closer to the bottom. Finally, the use of the OctoPINTS model was proposed as a way to allow managers to better understand and experiment with the complexities of adaptively managing fisheries

What will the OctoPINTS project do next with workshop results?

Model development

This workshop held two aims for the model, firstly to share the current model and get feedback on its current design with particular focus on key mechanisms and processes such as compliance and acceptance. Second, we are complexifying the biological and ecological components of the model, partly through a master’s thesis within the OctoPINTS project, so we intentionally focused the workshop on getting input for that part of the model. 

The current OctoPINTS model will be updated with smaller fishing grounds for the deep reefs and the divers. The growth model will likely be a choice of the Herwig et al. (2012) who worked with free octopus, rather than van Heukelem (1973) who had them in captivity. Include the individual economic benefits from one opening to another. Foot fishers fishing in the free area will be in relation to tides, however noting we are really only concerned with the closure dynamics so this is primarily to include some more realism. We will look into fishers moving to favourite areas versus moving random. 

The scenarios we explore with the model, will be informed by the diversity of context that we have learned from this workshop. This means looking at different contexts that represent different community characteristics to see based on the included model processes, which community type has higher or lower probability to develop or maintain high acceptability of closures and make them successful.

Empirical investigations

As a result of our workshop we summarize questions that came up during the workshop as potential future investigations. Can we rethink and reevaluate what really contributes to increased or decreased acceptance? And the same for compliance. Is individual compliance more affected by a) individual acceptance, or b) the acceptance of the community as a whole (representing social pressure), or the c) acceptance in their peer groups (e.g., fellow skin divers). How does the issue of pride and identity contribute to compliance and acceptance? How does trust in compliance play a role? As an example – I trust my peers completely, but do I trust that others comply? What is the influence of that on acceptance of the closure model? What is the role of market dynamics with regards to export of the octopus, and how does it link to compliance and the acceptance of the closure model? However, we are not sure to what degree we will be able to explore these questions within our project timeline. 

Summary of future dream outputs

Just before closing the workshop we asked participants to dream away and Tim asked what they would like to see as next steps. Everyone had a go at this question! “I would be interested to see how the model and/or fieldwork can represent ____”. 

  • The model should take into consideration the biological, ecological, fishery related characteristics – to be able to propose management measures for the species.
  • More biological influences in the model. How do we measure social cohesion and how does it affect the model?
  • Interesting to have a model to ensure adaptive management. Is there potential for a real-time model that could be applied at the local community level? Interesting question that we’d love to discuss in a future conversation.
  • The wider impacts on biodiversity that the octopus fishery has (e.g. the reef, bycatch, biological diversity)
  • There is potentially so much that could be added to the model. Global warming and how it affects growth parameters. Although there is only so much to be added in order not to compromise the efficacy of the model.
  • My lens now is responding to the critiques of community cohesion and homogeneity and learning to live with the disensus, discussing the critiques laid against Ostrom and CBNRM in failing to grapply with heterogeneity and conflict. 
  • How does the NGO consult with the community at the start of the project? There will be more emphasis in making sure that procedures such as FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) are used. Having a focus on compliance pre-conservation projects and wondering if that could be a factor that could be added to the model. How thorough was the consultation process? Also, does it make a difference who breaks the rules? Is it a woman gleaner, a village leader, are they going to have different influences on the level of compliance? And then apply different fines to different people.
  • Great, interesting model! a need or question: how to include additional biological components? And how much do biological components influence compliance beyond the financial benefits? Are we adding (unnecessary) complexity by adding all this detail? 
  • Fascinating to continue with the discussion and summarise complexity and agree on some objectives. The model could be used for discussion. Market dynamics are not considered much, but could be enriching the model.

We, the OctoPINTS team, are truly grateful for the deep engagement of the participants in the workshop and are keen to continue collaboration within this network to further develop the model, disseminate knowledge on closure dynamics and explore how the OctoPINTS project can contribute to sustainable collaborative fishery management in the region. Warm wishes, the OctoPINTS participants Emilie, Tim, Liz, Andrew, Benedetta, and Jineth and OctoPINTS members Rosemarie Mwaipopo and Maja Schlüter who were not able to participate.


The OctoPINTS research project (, a transdisci- plinary research project based at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden and funded by the Swedish Research Council Dnr 2018-05862.


Workshop prepared by Emilie Lindkvist, Elizabeth (Liz) Drury O’Neill, Tim Daw, Benedetta Veneroni, and Jineth Berrío-Martínez. Contributions of all the participants of the session as listed at the end of this report.


Fishery Closures, Collaborative Conservation, Closure models, WIO region, Story telling, Agent-based modeling, Octopus, Small-scale fisheries.

Suggested Citation

Lindkvist, E, Veneroni, B., Daw, T., Drury O’Neill, L., Berrío-Martínez, J. (2021). Stories and Simulations: Compliance and Periodic Octopus Closures in the WIO region. Workshop Report. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.

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