“Mwa dan mo lepok, la mo pou gaign 54 ans le 10 aout, dans laz 11 ans kan mwa mone al koumens la peche, kot nou p deboute la, ti cav gaigne 15-20 livres ourites en place. 1, 2, 3, 4 ourite ensem ensem. Ou soizir! Ou soizir ki ou pou piker, ki ou pou tir dan la mer. Zordi zour peser pa soizir ourite, paski kifer? Li pou tir li kan meme li tipti pou li viv avec sa. Kombien dimoune pou laisse li? 2, 3 dimoune. Mé 5-6 dimoune derier li pou tir tipti la pou li viv. Pe ete dan ene 2 ans, 3 ans enkore, 4 ans, 5 ans si pas pren ene mesure kouma bizin, ourite va disparaitre.
” -- Louis Moutienne, peser Rodrigues. “Back in the day, when I was 11 (I am turning 54 on August 10), when I started fishing, I could find 15 to 20 pounds of octopus where we are standing now. There would be 1, 2, 3,4 octopus living together. You could choose! You could choose which one you would take home, which one you would take out of the sea. Today, fishers don’t choose anymore. Why? A fisher will take even a little one home, so that he can live. How many fishers will let the little ones in the sea? 2 or 3 maybe. But then 5 or 6 people behind will come and take that little one. If we continue like this what will happen? Maybe in 2, 3, or 4 or 5 more years, if we don’t take the right measures, octopus will disappear.”
-- Louis Moutienne, fisherman in Rodrigues.
In Rodrigues, an autonomous outer island of Mauritius, fishing for ourites (local name for octopus) has been a tradition, a profession, and part of the lifestyle for generations.
However, in recent years, the limited employment opportunities in other sectors led to an increase in the number of ourite fishers. The unregulated nature of the fishery has inevitably led to the decline of the stock of ourites, mainly due to catches of small, immature ones.
Today, for the fourth consecutive year, Rodrigues is closing the ourite fishing season for two months, between August 10 and October 10. Following the first temporary closure in 2012, annual catches of octopus were almost back to their levels in 2003 after 15 years of decline.
Moreover, the first temporary octopus closed season successfully showed that it is possible for different stakeholders to effectively work together towards sustainably managing the fishery, while also deriving substantial profits.
How do you fish for ourites?
We spent two mornings with fishers in Rodrigues learning how to fish for ourites. We very quickly realized that it requires many skills, including patience, dexterity, and good vision.
Fishers usually go out looking for ourites at low tide, which is often i the early morning hours. You have to walk carefully on reef flats, being aware where you step, and making sure you don't crush “lacaz poisson” (corals, referred to as fish’s homes). In the deeper parts of the lagoon, you can also fish for ourites from a boat and using handle long spears.
Using a metal stick, you search the dens, where octopus find shelter. Ourites are amazing animals. They can change color, texture, and shape. They are experts at camouflage and take the color of sand, corals, and rocks that surround them and blend in. Ourite can squeeze through the tiniest of cracks and disappear behind a cloud of ink. Fishers often don’t see the ourites themselves, but notice the air bubbles they release to try to scare intruders away.
Moreover, ourites have a recognizable way of tending to their dens. They use pebbles and shells to block out the entrance and hide themselves in. A trained eye knows how to identify ourite dens.
What happens when the octopus fishing season is closed?
Ourites live short lives. The longest octopus lifespan is three to four years, and most of the smaller ourites die after about six months to a year. They grow fast to adult size and only reproduce once. After mating, males soon die. Females lay from fifty to tens of thousands of eggs and tend them faithfully, keeping them well oxygenated, clean, and protected from predators. After the eggs hatch, the females die.
When the fishing season is closed, ourites have time to reproduce and grow. The closure is for 2 months, usually between August and October, when the eggs hatch. Ourite populations increase, and individual ourites also increase in size and weight.
Meanwhile, fishers are offered alternative activities co-financed by the Rodrigues authorities and SmartFish. The activities cover a wide range of work from beach clean ups, to planting vegetables and endemic plants, invasive plant control and the maintenance of riverbeds and reservoirs.
Additional activities are also organized in collaboration with the rangers of the South East Marine Protected Area (SEMPA), including monitoring of the net fishery, maintenance of buoys in the protected area, and surveillance of the lagoon.
As a fisherman in Rodrigues told us:
“Nou bizin conscient ki kan p fair ene zafair pou la mer, dan la mer, c pou nou. C pou nou gagne pain. Nou em nou bizin protez la mer.”“We must realize that when we are protecting the sea, it’s for ourselves. It’s for our livelihood. We need to protect the sea and we need to do it ourselves.”
Congratulations, Rodrigues on this fourth consecutive temporary closure! We look forward to celebrating the re-opening of the fishing season on October 10. Till then, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn more about ourites, fishers’ experience both in Mauritius and in Rodrigues, results from the fourth closure, and much more!