Riding the gentle waves on a black pirogue, Saidy stops rowing and breaks the calm, his assistant has to go for a check dive. The visibility in the water varies from day to day due to sediment, and naturally with it varies catch and quantity. Mijibika or Maniriky or Apnea diving for grabbing fish, lobsters and shells is a tradition and a sole means of making a living for the majority of villages on the western coast of Madagascar. Early this millennium, the decline in usual catch and the high demand for sea cucumbers caused a big shift in the divers’ focus.
Most of the Denga Denga or Zanga species in Madagascar live on sand beds at depths of 20 centimeters to deeper than 25 meters, filtering sediment for food and playing a critical ecological role in keeping the ocean water clean. The ease of spotting and usually retrieving these defenseless creatures makes them a relatively easy catch whereas the luring price that is offered for each kilogram ensures constant competition amongst exploiters. Depending on the species and the quality of the final product – which is salted and dried (called trepang) – the price varies from 20,000Ar to 350,000Ar (5 to 100 euros). Trepang is exclusively exported to asian markets.
Over the past decades, a significant increase in the demand for sea cucumber has led to an explosion in exploitation resulting in population declines in many producing nations. Catches have been declining over the last 10 years and fishers are reported to be catching smaller and reproductively immature individuals. Madagascar’s annual beche-de-mer production shows boom and burst features with high production in mid to late 80’s and dramatic decline of more than 90% by 1994-1995.
In an attempt to continue supply and lessen environmental and social impact, several sea pens line the western coast. These are the result of a collaborative work between IHSM, several NGO’s, many donors, a private company, local committees and farmers. The conditions are promising but still far from ideal due to conflicts between fishermen, disagreement with the supplier / exporter and lack of surveillance by the Fisheries Ministry.
Saidy’s catch today was less than yesterday’s. Three divers threshing the surface eagerly for three hours were rewarded four sea cucumbers, 300 grams each, if left in nature one could grow up to 1,500 grams.
Nosy Berafia, Andreva, Andavadoaka, Tulear, Madagascar 2016 ©