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Fishing for answers: how do octopus fishers earn a living during the octopus fishing closure?
— by veynoulagon veynoulagon
Marlène Marlin, Piqueuse d'ourites, Petite Butte, Rodrigues

On August 10, the day of the official closure of octopus fishing in Rodrigues, I took my 2x4 to see what fishers were doing around the island. In Petite Butte, a group of women locally referred to as “piqueuses d’ourites” (octopus fishers) caught my attention. Mrs. Marlène Marlin started fishing when she was very young and like most people in Rodrigues, she relies on octopus for a living. That Monday morning however, she was not going out on the water. She explained to me:

“Zordi la mo p travail alternatif fermtir la pess ourite. Mo p netoy o nivo lenvironmen. Coupe bann arbre, ramass bann plastik, tou bann dessé ki nou trouvé ki pa degradab nou p ramassé, nou p netoyé pou couma dire sa ruisso la li adapté avec la mer, pou saleté pa al dan la mer. Et kan debormen aussi couma dire li pa afecter nou jardin, pou sa ki nou pe travail.”

“Today I am taking part in alternative activities while the octopus fishing season is closed. I am cleaning up our environment. This includes trimming trees, picking up plastic, as well as all the trash that is lying around and that is not degradable. We are clearing up this stream so it does not take all this trash with it in the ocean. The stream is also affected by the ebb and flow of ocean tides and precipitations, so if it overflows, this trash will end up in our backyards.”

Every year, octopus fishers work on alternative activities to clean their environment and make their island a more enjoyable place to live. Pay is not much, but Marlène explained that they are doing it for their own benefit.

“Couma dire noune enrezistré noune signe enn contra pou 30 jour, nou ena 15 jour travail dan enn moi pou fermtir la pess en atendan ki nou laiss nou ourite ponn pou nou gaign pli boucou production dan nou la mer. Parski si nou alé la si nou ale la pess nou pou touy tou mama ourite nou pa pou gaign ourite, li pa pou reprodui. Parski ourite li enn produi si ou pa laiss li ponn ou pou ale pik li ou pou tire tou so dizef nou em ki pou perdi.”

“So we signed up and have a contract for 30 days. We have 15 paid work days each month during the fishing closure, while we leave the octopus to reproduce and the eggs to hatch so that we can have a richer and more productive sea. If we go fishing at this time of the year, we will kill all the females before they’ve had a chance to lay their eggs. If the eggs don’t hatch, there won’t be any baby octopus that grow and reproduce. Octopus is a renewable resource, but if you don’t let it reproduce or if you catch a female with all its eggs, it’s only at our loss.”

Marlène believes than closing the fishery for two months is crucial for the populations to replenish. She was excited to tell me about what will happen when they reopen fishing in October:

“Ourite, kan nou pou ariver nou pou ale la pes nou pou gaign pli bocou ourite! Haha! [...] bann peser ti amene gro ourite meme nou nou emerveillé kan nou trouvé. Avan, nou alé nou gaign zis 2 livre, aster pessere vini avec 100 livre, 200 livre, bocou ourite!”

“When we will go back to fishing, we will catch so much more octopus! Haha! [...] fishers have brought back octopus so big that even we, who grew up fishing, are amazed just looking at them. Before the closure, we used to go out and bring back only about 2 pounds of octopus. After the closure, fishers come back with 100 pounds, 200 pounds, so much octopus!”

Marlène and all the women working that morning are very supportive of their government’s initiative. Once fishing reopens, they will be able to catch larger octopus in greater quantities. They will be able to feed their families and sell some more at the local market, something that was becoming a real struggle only four years ago.