Mussa’s Story

Hi all this is Liz again from Stockholm Resilience Centre, back with another Character of the Closure! Closures being the periodic 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. I am working with the OctoPINTS project to bring the perspectives of different people impacted by this type of intervention to life a bit and see what they have to say about how they have experienced these closures firsthand. This character Mussa and what he has to say, like Nuru from a previous story, is based on an amalgamation of interviews and discussions that were had with people in Zanzibar, Tanzania in 2019. I put this story together to bring forth the arguments and opinions of those who are most blamed for not complying with this closure intervention- the younger male skin divers or free divers. I have taken the english translations of the swahili transcripts where we chatted to three different groups of skin divers 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 is academic papers. These skin divers who Mussa embodies provide a real feel for the greyness of the impacts and effects of marine conservation and management interventions, the good, the bad and the ugly, they articulate it really well. Maybe for a reason, maybe due to all the blame they receive from fisherwomen, foot fishermen, tradermen, traderwomen and local leaders.

Read or listen below:

“When God shuts this door he opens the other door, somehow there is benefit, somehow loss”

Low tide in Zanzibari seascape.

This is how I see these octopus closures, this is how people get, there are others who get many, others get few, but this is God’s wish. So we as skin divers of this coastline are affected but we have other means. You know, anything that has happiness, there should be also sorrows, nothing has happiness without sorrows.  

When we talk about the closure “ufungaji” it means to close something for a certain period of time, as you wish, and expect that when I come to open I will be having what I need. The benefits that people get from the octopus closure depend on how a person views the project. 

But let me take you back to the beginning, when we first heard of these closures. Me myself and a lot of my fellow divers “kalipso”, we were scared, we were not supportive. We were thinking of the area of the sea we were going to lose. We slowly accepted these closures though because of thinking about what was promised, a village fund where the benefits would be shared. This could really help things here, fix things, provide maintenance, help the school. Our community needed this, you can’t get these benefits out of pocket. Our group came to support the project too because when you are the diver you see what is going on in the sea, this is good, this is bad, this is looking good, this is destroyed. We got a lot of information on the project and this was good, to see what was going on. The few who were still against the project we took no heed of them. 

In general, when it was running, this project was good, we understand that when you leave something it can multiply. There were a lot of benefits for the coral, it could regenerate and recover from destruction like drag nets or blast fishing, because these closures and the process discouraged such activities from our shores. We were not fair to the octopus, when we were destroying. We were brought comfort by the closures because there was coral, fish, octopus eggs, reproductive areas. We didn’t expect the environment to change like that, happiness came. I left the smallest octopus which were so young, because I was only choosing the biggest, because that was the grace I received from closures, the grace is to choose what you want. So on the day we opened I benefited because the octopus was 2kg, 3kg and above. We got not only octopus, but also fish, because in the closure not only octopus enters but also fish, eel, all are restored, so we thank God there is a grace in the sea when we open.

During closures, the octopus, I saw how it realised that you are not hunting, it becomes very calm, like a normal fish and it comes crawling and you may catch it easily.  

But you know for us divers, now the project has stopped, life is still normal, other days you get, other days you miss. Octopus have not disappeared, even without closing they will still reproduce, they can move and change environment, when it’s cold there are plenty, when it’s hot they go very far and even divers can’t reach them. They are protected by God and not through a closure. When we die, octopus will still be there

The closure is productive yes but also has negative impacts, on our side, because when you close the coast, you get profit but when we close the conflicts arise, some will agree and others will refuse.

They blame the divers because they feel envious of us, they think we are the ones who benefit much, we are few and those who go fishing octopus on foot are many, when the water level is high they cannot go, we can. They don’t trust the divers. They become greedy, when they see the many octopus at the openings they think to themselves that if there is octopus here in the shallows imagine the plenty in the deep, where the divers go. 

At Ramadhan they laugh together because they know that the we the divers don’t dive, they become so happy, but when the Ramadhan ends and we are free, there is no peace, there will be no cooperation

To have closures again some few things must happen. 

We need a reliable market for octopus, we are selling very low, research should be done into how the market will be. If it is promising then we can close but if the market is not stable, no need to close, it is better to stay without, even if we get only 2kg, we will have soup with our children, only that!

We need stronger leaders to train us, who could explain to us the profit and loss obtained from the octopus closure. When that kind of education will be provided within the village, everybody will understand and we will agree, rather than directing us, the people of lower ranks to “go and call the people so that you can talk about the issues of the coast”. 

These leaders we have assigned, their responsibility is to stop the destructive kind of fisheries, also the government. We cannot preserve for guests to come from outside with blast and drag nets, pirates. Punishments need to happen to those who break the rules, there needs to be follow up and the fines need to be big enough to discourage.

We the divers are affected but because we want this closure thing, we have no way out, we go to other works like farming, animal keeping because if we continue to depend on that coast we will suffer, as we used to suffer at first when closure came, but now we have different ways of searching for income.

Divers as the main octopus fishers need the government in cooperation with small companies to support us because we cannot close the coast while we don’t have the projects to help us, and we in this place are many.