Lulua’s Story

Traders tend to their products at a closure opening November 2019

Hi all I’m Liz Drury O’Neill & welcome to the fourth story in our storytelling series “Characters of the closures: Human Experiences of Marine Conservation & Management”. The following story shares the experiences of women in coastal Zanzibari villages that buy, process and sell octopus- either as soup, kebabs or fried. Lulua is a fictional representation of the many traderwomen that the OctoPINTS project listened to and talked with in 2019. She shares her experiences and opinions of how marine conservation affects her and her fellow traders.

Listen or read below:

Our project is based on octopus fishery closures in the Western Indian Ocean, a type of protected area in conservation and natural resource management used there, traditionally and in more recent times by NGOs and National Governments. In Zanzibar fisheries are highly important for food, work, income, heritage, tradition, identity and ways of life. The octopus from Zanzibar and many other places in the Indian Ocean ends up in the freezers of European supermarkets so these fisheries and the Zanzibaris that fish and trade in them are not isolated but connected to how we buy and eat here in the EU. Also to international policies that mandate the protection of life underwater through the roll out of marine protected areas. 

All the stories in this story series were put together based on data collected in Zanzibar using Story Circles– a method borrowed from Theatre- as well as photo elicitation tasks and focus group discussions. The characters are fictional but the words, actions and thoughts told in the stories represent the participants we worked with in Zanzibar, who will remain anonymous. I have taken the English translations of the Kiswahili transcripts where we chatted to three different groups of traderwomen in three sites and put them into the form of a story, so that their voices and what they wanted to tell me are shared. There often isn’t the space for this in academic papers.

Traderwomen, who are actually often also processors, fishers and transporters (pluriactivity), are often not taken into account as important stakeholders of marine protected areas but they fulfil a crucial function in providing for local food and nutritional security. So protected areas can both help or hinder them to do so, depending on how you look at it, like in the short or long term. It’s common for women in tropical small-scale fishery value chains to deal with products that will go to household consumption, rather than export. Women are of course also found in higher value positions exporting and owning trade businesses in these environments (e.g. Ghana, Philippines). Here we provide a chance for some traderwomen to feedback on the ever spreading marine protected area- octopus closures.

Luluas’s Story

I remember the SFC decided to do it, I heard about it from them and I do think there was a meeting here to discuss with the villagers. At that meeting I remember I saw many people, the investors were there, the NGO who wanted to do it. They came to advise us about closing our coast and told us about the benefits we could achieve. Like our children going to school with fees from the closure. When 50% of people in the village decided ok lets do it then we went ahead, but it was mixed support for a while. I think that’s because we didn’t know the benefits of conservation though. I myself and other octopus traderwomen or vendors like me we did not support this thing. I was reluctant, maybe you could even say stubborn because for me things were going ok. Some of my fellows supported more out of fear of being punished for breaking rules. 

What made me to start this octopus trading business was a difficult life, because I used to buy only fish but now it’s also octopus. I fill my basin and I go to my business, it was the difficult life that made me do this. If you are not hungry you only sleep, but if you are hungry you will innovate in your business ideas.

After we traderwomen witnessed the opening, the richness there, we supported, we are still grateful. Grateful to God. The increase in octopus sizes are good for business, for frying or boiling. It’s better for chopping to make my kebabs. I can also keep the extra in the freezer and then keep them to sell. The selling also means I can get good ingredients for octopus soup I sell, it’s good for customers. I can give them tasty soup for cheaper prices. I provide happiness. 

Both rabbitfish, prawns and squid are more available to me now for my business, the closure helps them too. Octopus prices are lower at the openings due to the amount landed so we can access lots more octopus, and bigger octopus too! Otherwise the tradermen take all the bigger sized octopus. Sometimes they are quite expensive too. We are very satisfied with the opening events, we are happy, I can eat octopus soup with my children! I can also say that I am happy to see women in the coast supporting their lives at the openings. Thank god.

I see my role in this project, with my fellow traderwomen, to be faithful to the rules, to be united and to share the information about where the closure is in the sea. Our responsibility as a group is to be prepared for the many octopus that are landed when we open, we need to prepare cash to buy and make sure we have customers. 

Why did we continue our support until now? Well we saw and heard of other villages doing these closures and also getting benefits so we felt we were not alone. We are up-to-date as a village. Also when I learned more and more about the process and became clearer on what it entailed then I accepted this. 

The opening is a ceremony, it brings me happiness, many visitors come and they even take pictures of us, people are happy, we thank God. 

The profits I get for octopus closures helps my kids, they can get educated, they can wear smart uniforms. Having the bigger octopus, and more of them, means I can meet my household needs. Even the village is improved, the village gets an income, we can help the Mosque. The coral reefs can grow and so can the fish, octopus can reproduce in peace. The coast must be closed so we can receive such grace. It was the grace of God that gave us this project and the blessings with it. 

However, listen to me, unfortunately we have been suffering us traderwomen. Poachers, mainly skin divers “kalipso” have been taking octopus at night, they make us suffer, they remove benefits from others by doing this. It hurts us, it isn’t fair. These divers disturb the process a lot, I hate them, they think the coast belongs to God so they have a right to fish. Buyers work with them though and go to the divers home to get the stolen octopus. 

I also feel affected by those who don’t follow the rules on the opening day and buy illegally, not paying the levy. But I have to. I have to pay the levy. Those who don’t pay the levy and entice away the fishers with high prices really undermine us local female octopus traders. Men enter at high tide on the opening day before the official opening comes, when we can’t enter as we cant swim, yes many of us fish octopus too at the opening. So that means we are at a better advantage to those who just fish. 

So yes there are some downsides, I have to use my savings during the 3 months closures to be able to buy octopus and sometimes I can actually get too much octopus at opening, fishers bring too much, and then I lose money in storing them by renting freezer space. But we traderwomen are grateful and satisfied, there is no work that is bad.

We want this project to be better managed, so as to avoid conflicts so we can continue to benefit into the future. The divers need to be controlled. 

I need this closure because it provides access to big octopus I could never get before, and to so much more. Maybe in the future if this continues I can even think of exporting the octopus as the men do and having more profits. 

The coast should be closed because anything you keep it gains value. If you have two farm-plots, one for cassava and one for bananas, you will be deciding on which one to take for today? You will decide that today I want banana, so when you take the banana the cassava will be kept. This is the same for the coast that is closed, you will go to the other coast while the closed area is growing. 


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About lizdruryoneill

Liz is an interdisciplinary sustainability scientist with training in both the natural, social and behavioural sciences. Through qualitative and quantitative methods in conjunction with many years field-based research, her work essentially focuses on fisheries, seafood trade and markets in low-income countries, from a human wellbeing perspective. Her research covers: value chain dynamics, trade and food security, fishing behaviour/decision-making, market processes, social relations and coastal livelihood strategies, MPAs, Interventions. Through her professional career she has researched coastal fisheries in Ghana, Tanzania, Moçambique and the Philippines.

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