The End

Welcome to the second story in our storytelling series “Characters of the closures”. The following story is one of dissolution, of the break down of an octopus closure. Its told in the context of a community meeting called by the fishing committee. Listen or read below.

Hi im Liz Drury O’Neill and welcome to the storytelling series “Characters of the closures: Human Experiences of Marine Conservation & Management”

This is our second story of the series, called the END. Just to remind any listeners or readers and also inform any newbies that this series is part of the OctoPINTS project which I’m working on as part of my postdoc at the  Stockholm Resilience Centre. The project is looking at collaborative marine conservation, specifically area based fishery management, like fishery closures or marine protected areas. We take a case study of octopus closures in Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, a swahili speaking tropical island where fisheries are highly important for food, work, income, heritage, tradition, identity and ways of life. The octopus from Zanzibar 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. NGO’s have supported fishing villages in Zanzibar and around the Indian Ocean to close some of their reefs periodically to allow octopus to reproduce and grow. When the reefs are opened again after a few months the villages, neighbours, friends and families celebrate and catch plenty of fat and juicy octopus which is then exported or made into soup or fried. Levys from the landed octopus goes to the village for social projects. Compliance with the rules of this conservation intervention in this context is obviously important, but rules and rule breaking are complex contested subjects. Implementing closures can turn some people into rule breakers, now their usual spot where they always catch octopus is fenced off, for others they now become perceived as the rule followers- they never went to that reef anyway and don’t even rely on octopus. The values, identities, relationships and wider cultural context all shape what rule breaking is and who rule breakers are. Ultimately issues of non-compliance can end a conservation project while compliance with legitimate and agreed upon rules can lead to its longevity. The following story is one of dissolution, of the breakdown of an octopus closure. Again like my previous story the words are based on what the characters of the closures told me themselves, I rearranged them into a story so that what is happening in the small-scale fisheries of Zanzibar can become an understood/understandable human experience. 

Here we go…..

The End

“Look” said Pandu to his fellow fishing committee colleagues as they stood in front of the village school building waiting for people to arrive for the community meeting, “Remember when Ali Said caught that 6 kilogram octopus at the seconding opening of the closed area, it made me understand that when we conserve our area, what we fish will be of the value, even in the world where we sell it, these type of catches show that there is a need to conserve, when we conserve we get something that makes sense”.

“Yes Pandu we are with you” said Fatma the fishing committee’s secretary, “I want this project back, we can develop from it, we can have development here”

“I think all of us on the committee want this project to start again Pandu, but we can’t have the community separate again as it did before” Hamis, another fishing committee member, contributed.

They collectively thought back to the conflict and disagreement amongst the different village groups over the conservation project, which was forced to end as a result two years ago. Pandu remembered people arguing at the Mosque, even at burials, about the project, the octopus and the thieves. It reached a place where people even hated each other, if someone didn’t support the project they were alienated. They, the committee had to tell the NGO, the ones who had come to implement the closing of octopus reefs, about the growing conflict on the Island. The NGO came and even the fishery department, they had meetings in the villages, but clashed with those who are stubborn, they realised the problem was not with us the committee but with some of the community members. We, the committee, are not the problem. The NGO and the government both got stuck, they decided to leave the process up to us. The NGO responded that they would stop the project here because of all these misunderstandings created, that we first needed to clear all the doubt before they could start the conservation again.

 “Well here we are two years later”, reflected Pandu to his colleagues, “but I think we are close, let’s start this campaign”.

“I hope we are Pandu, a coast that is not closed, an area without closures, has no development, any area that has a closure will have good success, the benefits will be in the community, but also with the NGO and the Government who will get an income from this. When we conserve we will be visited by the NGOs, like when that Irish girl Liz came here, if the area is not closed we can’t get these people”. “Yes Hamis”, replied Pandu “truthfully the fact that we are not closing right now means we cannot develop, we won’t have visitors , we will be having no stories to tell”

Fatma continued “We used to be famous for our octopus, when we from this island visited other places people would ask ahhh in your island there is octopus, give me a gift, but now now when you go people ask aw how is the octopus, there is no octopus now.”

“Yes this is a loss indeed Fatma, in the past we were famous due to our octopus” Hamis added, turning to the rest of the committee “This project makes sense to us people here for many many reasons, But we need the collaboration of the central Government if we want to try it again with our villages here. And like the NGO said we cannot force it, this is an issue of agreement and satisfaction, no need to force, we can go on and succeed in the future, lets hope there is calmness now” 

Pandu looked out the window and saw the village leader, the Sheha, coming for the meeting, followed slowly by other groups of people making their way to the school building. The committee took their seats on the chairs at the front of the room as people unfolded their mats and began to sit down facing them, waiting for them to begin.

The meeting kicked off with discussions about the unfortunate collapse of the closures, why did it happen, how do people remember it, let’s move forward from it.

“Let’s hear from you women who fish in the coast” prompted the Sheha over the loud hum of chattering amongst the hundred or so people from the two villages on the island. Two or three of the large group of fisherwomen piped up.

“Only the skin divers destroyed the closure, they knew that if we closed they can’t go and dive, they can’t get to the closed area. But they go, they went.” Grumbled an elder lady

Her daughter added “They cannot be controlled because they can enter the water at any time. They stole, and stole, this discouraged all of us from continuing. After the decision to close was made they disrupted everything, they had their own meetings after agreeing with everyone at the community meetings”

Another fisherwoman said “Yes it was at the third closure meeting people went against the project, they shouted no, the skin divers, they said the area should not be closed and they would fight whoever tried to close it, they said just leave the coast open and we will see what happens. Meetings stopped and when openings happened nobody was landing anything. Why should one half of the community be enriched through closures by stealing and the other half suffer? We left the closures”.

“I tend to agree with you mama”, noted Pandu, “I remember the third meeting where people started to disagree, we tried to close one more time after that and it was at that meeting that many of you refused so we just had to stop. Young men emerged and caused problems, not only skin divers but there were Scuba divers too. We the committee tried to fine and enforce the fines but some refused to pay ”.

“You know what kaka, brother, Pandu” broached a female octopus soup vendor, “I think this project ended because we were not ready, we didn’t put what we were being told into consideration and it ended up in arguments, we didn’t give those people who came to educate us about this conservation thing a chance. If they or other outsiders don’t come again we can’t start this project again because our heads are hard ”.

Muffled laughter went through the crowd.

“Dada, sister, it is not my head that is hard, it’s the fisher’s” replied one of the main octopus tradermen of the area

“Yes kaka, you tell her” upheld a fellow traderman. The former continued “ The chaos that occurred was between the fishers and those that were in charge of the project. The fishers are the ones who create this conflict. Both those who dive and those who go on foot, they both have problems”

Indignant shouts were heard from the crowd at this point as fishers of different types complained against this slander, the sheha stood up and silence reclaimed the room for the traderman to continue.

“The fishers were not satisfied, they may agree let’s close, but after a short time they lost trust and chaos started. They saw the income in the sea after closing for a month and a half, then chaos. Divers went in, footfishers couldn’t, chaos”.

“But hear me” intercepted a fisherwomen ”if my child is diving I will be in conflict with the one who wants to close, why are they closing the coast while our children are going to search for daily bread, because the coast belongs to God, but when the benefit enters is for all of us, that is where the conflicts starts, I will insult the one who agreed to close the coast because I have my child who is diving in the coast, I won’t allow it to close because my child will not dive.”

“I think it’s time we get to speak”, a young skin diver said from the corner of the room where he was sitting with his fellows, a flurry of whispers went around the room as people strained to see which of them was taking the floor.

“The closure project here stopped because some of us were in conflict” the diver emphasized clearly, ”there are the people who used the area that got closed more than others, they complained because they only depend on that closed area, that is the reason for the riot and they don’t want the coast to be closed because their income depends much on that coast.” His fellows nodded in agreement

“Who is they?!” cried someone from the back of the hall, the skin diver continued more loudly

“Look people stole, people poached, people broke the rules, they were penalized but there were those who failed to pay, there was a lot of money that was not paid, you even take him to court and he refuses to pay the fine”,

“Yes!” joined in his mate earnestly “people stopped paying their fines, they disappeared till the project ended, so people said we could not meet and discuss the coast because there was no equal rights, people promise to pay but then they don’t”

Ten more minutes ensued of back and forth between tradermen, soup vendors and octopus fryers, fisherwomen, octopus foot fishermen, the skin divers, the committee members,

“we don’t need all the conflict again” warned a traderwomen

“But dada, now no octopus are available” emphasized a fisherwomen “we trust God because he created us and only he knows how we will survive,”

“may god help us” replied a few fellows sitting close to her.

“God brings the coast to us so that we can use it for our own benefits” a skin diver retorted

The Sheha snapped back “Bwana mdogo, young man, Are we authorized to use everything as we wish simply because they are brought by God? Or are we using them wisely so that these resources will be sustainable?”  

The skin diver blatantly ignored him and continued “We can cooperate now, us here, there is now cooperation because we can each go to our own place where we want in the coast, not like before”

“You are right boy” responded an older fisherwoman “When this project stopped we are more united, no more insults because the coast is free, we are now united as relatives, same father, same mother. We have many coasts, when you close here in this one, you will get other places, it is the richest country but we make it poor because we don’t have agreements”