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Tanzania unveils plan to manage octopus fishery

Tanzania, a major octopus producer in the Indian Ocean, is working on a plan to introduce measures for sustainable management and harvesting of the fishery, alongside communities and other partners.

Octopus fishery

The plan is geared towards addressing existing gaps in assessing and harvesting octopus stocks to enhance conservation of the valuable resource that supports the country’s exports and local markets. Working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the government will deploy the FishPath approach, a specialised and comprehensive online tool for designing harvesting strategies for fisheries.

It is based on technical and quantitative science expertise to empower decision makers by simplifying stock assessment and management measures, besides acting as a guide for engaging stakeholders to deliver a tailored solution for a fishery.

In Tanzania, the octopus is exclusively harvested using traditional, small-scale, simple gear such as spears and rods or iron sticks along exposed reefs during low tide or in diving deeper water. These artisanal methods, though traditional, can pose sustainability challenges if not managed effectively.

The country is the largest producer of octopus in the western Indian Ocean, with catches increasing from 482 tonnes in 1990 to more than 3,400 tonnes in 2023, according to statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. This is linked to ongoing conservation efforts, including research initiatives led by the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute and the Zanzibar Fisheries and Marine Resources Research Institute. The research institutes, in collaboration with fishing communities, are piloting and monitoring voluntary rotational closures of octopus fishing sites, besides collecting data and conducting trials for alternative fishing gear.

However, despite the importance of the octopus, challenges such as illegal fishing, post-harvest loss and inadequate knowledge on fisheries information have affected the capacity of the fishery to meet increasing demand and self-management. To address these issues, the government, in collaboration with TNC and local stakeholders, is developing an updated octopus fishery management plan.

To initiate its development, fisheries management officials, technical agencies, coastal communities and other stakeholders recently held a workshop in Dar-es-Salaam.

Speaking at the workshop, Tanzania’s Director of the Fisheries Development Department, Prof. Mohammed Sheikh, said: “There is every reason to conserve the octopus due to its huge economic, nutritional and ecological significance to Tanzania and the world. In addition to sustaining livelihoods and providing food locally and to other countries, the octopus is an indicator of a healthy coastal ecosystem, especially coral reefs. We all need to work together to conserve it.”

TNC’s Director of Science in the Africa Region, Dr. Tuyeni Mwampamba, said: “We are pleased to partner with Tanzania in steering the octopus fisheries towards sustainability using the FishPath approach. This is beneficial to fisheries in Tanzania and other Western Indian Ocean countries with limitations in data and capacity, rendering them unable to produce statistical estimates of stock status. This often limits management regulations, impeding advancement of science-based sustainable management plans for fisheries and marine ecosystems that are adaptable and resilient to climate change.”

On her part, TNC’s Tanzania Country Director, Lucy Magembe, said: “TNC has been a long-term partner of the government of Tanzania for over 10 years, providing funding, technical support and capacity development. We look forward to contributing to the country’s Blue Economy through sustainable small-scale octopus fisheries.”

The FishPath tool was initiated by an expert working group and refined by TNC in partnership with USA NOAA Fisheries and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). In addition, TNC and collaborators currently design and deliver tailored data review and stock assessment workshops to support the management goals of partner agencies.

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