Poor in Madagascar see fish plundered for foreign consumption

Jeremy Hance
October 11, 2011

 Malagasy family help their father carry his boat out to fish. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Malagasy family help their father carry his boat out to fish. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

A new study warns that overfishing could exacerbate poverty and political stability in one of the world's poorest nations: Madagascar. According to the recent study published in Marine Policy, fish catches in the African island-nation from 1950 to 2008 are actually double the official numbers, with foreign wealthy nations currently taking half the haul.

"Both increasing pressure by local fishing communities and demand from the international market could accelerate the downward trends we see in Madagascar's fisheries," says lead author Frédéric Le Manach, a graduate student at the University of Plymouth in the UK.

Access to fishing areas around Madagascar for foreign fleets have been set by way official numbers, yet according to the study these numbers have been artificially low for over half a century, which has led to substantial overfishing around the island.

"Signs of decline have already been observed in several stocks, suggesting that current levels of catches are likely to be exceeding sustainable yields. This has profound implications for the economic and ecological sustainability of fisheries, as well as food security in a country where people rely heavily on the ocean for their daily protein needs and livelihoods," reads the study.

Currently around 70 percent of people in Madagascar suffer from malnutrition while two-thirds of the population live below the international poverty line, making less than $1.25 a day. In addition, the nation has seen massive population growth, with officials estimating that during the 20th Century the population boomed from 2.2 million to nearly 12 million by the 1990s. Over half the population is under 20.

"Securing Madagascar's fisheries for local consumption is of paramount importance to Madagascar's sustainable economic development," Alasdair Harris, a Malagasy marine scientist, said in a press release.

According to the study 80,000 tonnes of seafood from Madagascar's seas are shipped abroad annually, mostly to Europe and Asia.

"This study is yet another demonstration of how overfishing impacts humans in different parts of the world," says supervising author Dirk Zeller with The Sea Around Us Project. "In the case of Madagascar, overfishing does not threaten to undermine a nice meal at a restaurant, but one of the mainstays of human survival."

CITATION: Frédéric Le Manach, Charlotte Gough, Alasdair Harris, Frances Humber, Sarah Harper, Dirk Zeller. Unreported fishing, hungry people and political turmoil: the recipe for a food security crisis in Madagascar? Marine Policy. Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 218-225.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 11, 2011).

Poor in Madagascar see fish plundered for foreign consumption .