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Tuesday, 8th June 2021

World Oceans Day: Life and Livelihoods

By Quinn Parker

Today, June 8th, is World Oceans Day, a day to raise awareness about the vast benefits we receive from the ocean, and our collective duty to use its resources sustainably (United Nations, 2021). This year’s theme is The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods, highlighting the central role that the ocean fills for all life on Earth, sustaining both humankind and the countless organisms we share the planet with. Covering the vast majority of the Earth’s surface, the ocean contributes to nearly every aspect of life, from the air we breathe to the food we eat.

This rings especially true in the island nation of Madagascar, where thousands of coastal communities depend directly on the ocean for food security and livelihoods (Barnes-Mauthe et al., 2013). Up to 1.5 million people in Madagascar are involved in fisheries and aquaculture, especially small-scale fishing, with few other livelihoods available in coastal regions (Le Manach, 2012; World Bank, 2020). Madagascar is also a biodiversity hotspot, with its oceans supporting incredible ecosystems and many rare and threatened species, including 123 species of sharks and rays (Baker-Médard & Faber, 2020; Cripps et al., 2015).  However, this biodiversity is at risk. Already declining on a global scale (Dulvy et al., 2014), elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, skates, and chimaeras) are heavily exploited in both industrial and small-scale fisheries throughout Madagascar (Cripps et al., 2015). Concurrently, many small-scale fishing communities are facing a multitude of hardships—catch is declining throughout Madagascar, with climate change, industrial fishing, and coastal development all placing pressure on the resources that communities have relied on for generations (Le Manach et al., 2012).

Fishers bring their catch ashore in Sainte Luce, selling some to local collectors 

The communities of Elodrato and Sainte Luce, in the southeast, are no exception. Lobster fishing is a vital livelihood for up to 83% of all households (Savage, 2020), but declines in lobster catch and decreases in income during the national closed season for lobster fishing—a three-month period during which it is illegal to catch lobsters throughout Madagascar—forces fishers to look elsewhere for income. For some, this may mean turning to other species, including sharks and rays. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Madagascar during an already severe drought season, concerns were especially high with regards to how fishers would cope during the national closed season. As part of a project funded by the Darwin Initiative’s COVID-19 Rapid Response project, SEED was able to investigate the elasmobranch fishery in Sainte Luce and Elodrato in depth for the first time, uncovering the importance of the fishery to household income and livelihoods.

Venitan and Andrivola help fishers haul their pirogue ashore

Collecting this data was no small feat, with training on participatory elasmobranch monitoring conducted remotely and with extra precautions due to COVID-19 restrictions. The team was up for the challenge though, with Conservation Programme Researcher Tsiraiky Rossizela taking the project lead. After learning the techniques via Zoom, he subsequently passed the knowledge on to Venitan Mosa and Andrivola Indrafo, two locally-recruited community data collectors from Elodrato and Sainte Luce. When reflecting on the training, Tsiraiky remarked that “This project improved my skills … communicating with people from different backgrounds was important to meet the targets of this project.” Training started out in the research camp and ended with a practical hands-on session at the landings beach, all whilst maintaining social distancing and frequently cleaning equipment. Training included the use of Open Data Kit (ODK) software, correct elasmobranch handling techniques, and how to conduct a landings survey.

Venitan and Andrivola then went on to complete more than 40 days of data collection each over two and a half months, during which they recorded 300 individual elasmobranchs. These elasmobranchs were from at least 15 different taxonomic groups, but one of the most striking findings was that over 85% of individuals recorded were from just two groups: guitarfish (114 individuals) and scalloped hammerhead sharks (146 individuals).  Such findings have helped SEED formulate key conservation priorities (accessible in this report) that will be useful to conservation practitioners in this data poor area. “The most crucial thing I enjoyed on this project was explaining to fishers and other local people how paramount [a] role elasmobranchs play in the ocean environment,” remarked Tsiraiky. This important message was carried throughout trainings, with the team motivated to share knowledge about elasmobranchs while uncovering the relationship between elasmobranchs and life in Elodrato and Sainte Luce.

Investigating this relationship led to two key questions: why did fishers land elasmobranchs, and how important is the fishery to local livelihoods? To find out, Tsiraiky and fellow researcher Hoby Tsimilajay conducted 97 interviews with fishers from both communities. As it turned out, the answer was not so simple.

A guitarfish is measured by data collectors at the landings beach.

From the interviews, SEED determined that, though lobster fishing generates the most income annually for the majority of households, income generated from the elasmobranch fishery was more important during the national closed season for lobster fishing. This makes sense, because when lobster fishing is prohibited under national law, fishers need an alternative livelihood to fill the gap in their income. Elasmobranch fishing is one way to accomplish this, with their meat and especially fins fetching a high price at market. In fact, fishers reported that shark fins could sell for between 2,000 - 250,000 MGA (the equivalent of approximately US$0.53 - $66.67) which is especially striking when many households in Sainte Luce and Elodrato reported only being able to spend approximately 1,399 MGA (US$0.40) on food per person per day in 2021 (SEED, 2021). In this context, selling shark fins and elasmobranch meat could make a notable difference in a households’ financial resilience, especially during the leaner months of the national closed season for lobster fishing.

However, other key learnings were that fishers did not increase their individual efforts to catch elasmobranchs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that almost all elasmobranch landings were incidental, meaning elasmobranchs were not targeted specifically, but were instead caught when fishers were out trying to catch other fish species, or when they were fishing without a particular species in mind. These findings add yet another layer to the complex nature of the elasmobranch fishery in the area. Though not a target, elasmobranchs were still caught relatively frequently and were recognised as an income source. And, though not related directly to decreased food security during COVID-19, the fishery does appear to have ties with the national closed season and fishers’ ability (or inability) to catch lobster.

Whatever way it is viewed, it is clear that the fishers of Elodrato and Sainte Luce rely heavily on marine resources for their livelihoods, with lobster fishing being their main source of income, and with fishers landing other fish, including elasmobranchs, when the need arises. This connection with the sea resonates deeply on World Oceans Day, with marine resources especially important for the coastal communities of Madagascar, demonstrating once again that the ocean is vital for countless livelihoods on Earth.

To learn more about the results from the interviews and participatory monitoring, please visit the following links: 


  1. Baker-Médard, M., & Faber, J. (2020). Fins and (Mis)fortunes: Managing shark populations for sustainability and food sovereignty. Marine Policy, 113(December 2019).
  2. Barnes-Mauthe, M., Oleson, K. L. L., & Zafindrasilivonona, B. (2013). The total economic value of small-scale fisheries with a characterization of post-landing trends: An application in Madagascar with global relevance. Fisheries Research, 147, 175–185.
  3. Cripps, G., Harris, A., Humber, F., Harding, S., & Thomas, T. (2015). A Preliminary Value Chain Analysis of Shark Fisheries in Madagascar. In Indian Ocean Commission.
  4. Dulvy, N. K., Fowler, S. L., Musick, J. A., Cavanagh, R. D., Kyne, P. M., Harrison, L. R., Carlson, J. K., Davidson, L. N., Fordham, S. V, Francis, M. P., Pollock, C. M., Simpfendorfer, C. A., Burgess, G. H., Carpenter, K. E., Compagno, L. J., Ebert, D. A., Gibson, C., Heupel, M. R., Livingstone, S. R., … White, W. T. (2014). Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. ELife, 3, 1–34.
  5. Le Manach, F., (2012). Valuation of fisheries resources in Madagascar: Wealth Accounting and Ecosystem Services Valuation (WAVES) Global Partnership. In: Fisheries Technical Study, Report Prepared for the World Bank.
  6. Le Manach, F., Gough, C., Harris, A., Humber, F., Harper, S., & Zeller, D. (2012). Unreported fishing, hungry people and political turmoil: The recipe for a food security crisis in Madagascar? Marine Policy.
  7. SEED Madagascar [SEED] (2021). Covid-19 Rapid Response: Addressing Covid-19-related food insecurity through household farming in southeast Madagascar - Community comparison of baseline survey results [A report for Darwin Project CV19RR14]. SEED Madagascar.
  8. Savage, J. (2020). A Baseline Socioeconomic Assessment of Lobster Fishing Communities in Southeast Madagascar [A report for Darwin Project 25-016]. SEED Madagascar.
  9. United Nations. (2021). World Oceans Day | United Nations.
  10. World Bank. (2020). Madagascar: Balancing Conservation and Exploitation of Fisheries Resources.