Seaweed fishing has long provided a decent livelihood on Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands off Tanzania. During lower tides, seaweed farmers wear traditional Swahili dress as they harvest, half-submerged in the blue-green water. Most of the farmers are women.
The commercial-grade seaweed has many uses, from toothpaste to food additive. However local fishers complain that the water is slowly warming resulting in less and less seaweed. Last year, they lost four tons of seaweed due to warmer weather.
The possible effects of climate change are just one of many problems facing the coastal communities of Zanzibar, known for its rich melding of cultures, lush marine ecosystem and majestic coral reefs. For centuries, coastal dwellers have based their livelihoods on marine and coastal resources.
The fisher village of Kizimkazi is emblematic of this reliance on the South West Indian Ocean. It is a fishing hub for villagers, which falls within the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a protected ecosystem busy with sea turtles, coral reefs, bottlenose dolphins and tourists.
One resident of Kizimkazi, 70-year-old Amina Taku, is on her feet at dawn to catch the high tide and collect shellfish to sell to hotels. She and other fishers who have been working since the 1970s say they have observed diminished returns as the catch size and the amount of fish wanes.
“I have been fishing since 1973,” said Shaaban Foum Haji. “We used to have a lot of fish, but today we can go fishing for two days and come back empty-handed, with nothing or just enough to pay the fuel cost.”
” SWIOFISH brings in coastal communities on the Indian Ocean as co-managers of their own resources. The project focuses on priority fisheries, the longstanding problem of blast fishing and the relatively low private sector investment in marine fisheries to-date. “
SWIOFish project lead
Hard times have brought back the perilous and devastating practice of blast fishing in Tanzania.
Blast fishing—dropping explosives into the water to fish—has recently reached epidemic proportions. It takes only about $8 of dynamite to stun and kill about 400 fish. Moreover, the business of buying and selling dynamite has increased the risk of insecurity across the country.
“We face many challenges,” says Ramla Talia, project coordinator. “Blast fishing ruins the entire ecosystem and biodiversity by turning coral reef into ashes and destroying all kinds of fish species. Illegal fishing by industrial trawlers is another issue that, along with the volatility of climate change, deeply impacts livelihoods in the region.”
In preparation for its engagement in the Indian Ocean region, the World Bank identified key high-value fisheries as well as current obstacles to effective management of these marine fisheries.
The new South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Governance and Shared Growth Program (SWIOFish) includes Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania and Seychelles. SWIOFISH in Tanzania focuses on tuna, prawns, small pelagics, octopus, reef fisheries and mariculture, such as seaweed, to build the economic importance of these fisheries and mariculture to local employment.
“The integrated regional approach of SWIOFISH brings in coastal communities on the Indian Ocean as co-managers of their own resources,” says Ann-Jeanette Glauber, project task team leader. “The project focuses on priority fisheries, the longstanding problem of blast fishing and the relatively low private sector investment in marine fisheries to-date.”
The project’s predecessor, the Marine and Coastal Environment Management Project (MACEMP) covered 147 communities and included a wide range of activities. The new $36 million SWIOFISH Tanzania Project focuses intensely on priority fisheries in 60 communities and targets a transformation of livelihoods through the improved governance of priority fisheries.
Coastal community involvement is the foundation of the project, working in partnership with the government in daily management of marine resources. Communities also develop ecotourism opportunities by participating in the management of the Menai Bay Conservation Area—a popular haven for whale tourism, fishing and diving—as well as Jozani Chwaka Park, known for its mangroves and rare Colobus Monkeys.
There is hope that good governance, ecotourism and private sector investment will transform livelihoods and develop the fisheries sector in the near future.