Advising on octopus fisheries

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in News | 2 Comments

Blue Ventures pioneered the world’s first ever octopus fisheries management system in Madagascar.

Now Blue Ventures  are adapting their practices and advising other nations on how to do the same. Charlie Gough, BV’s senior marine scientist, explains her recent visit to help the octopus fisheries in Mozambique…

It’s a good job I don’t mind getting my hands dirty! I’m standing on an island in the bay of Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique with the sun beating down, and a group of about ten fishermen crowded around as I delve into an impromptu lesson on how to tell the sex of an octopus (or ‘polvo’ as it’s called in Portuguese)! Covered in octopus ink, slime and sand, the fishers laugh at me as I demonstrate how octopus reproduce by the male inserting his third arm into the head of the female through the siphon. Bizarre? Yes! Cool? Definitely!

Ten minutes later these same fishers are demonstrating this technique to their friends who have just pulled up in another boat with more octopus.

Sexing octopus

Demonstrating that local management of marine resources can benefit the fishers themselves, the fast-growing octopus is an old friend of Blue Ventures. Working with local communities in Madagascar for the past 10 years, Blue Ventures has demonstrated that protecting octopus over their growth and reproductive phases can result in greater catches and improved income for fishers.

Octopus is not only a target species for small-scale fishers in Madagascar but also throughout the western Indian Ocean, and Mozambique, where 80% of catches are made by small-scale fishers, is no exception.

I find myself on this island at the invitation of the Mozambican NGO AMA and their Edinburgh-based partner Bioclimate. I’m here to understand the context in which octopus fisheries exist and operate in Mozambique, and to draw on Blue Ventures’ experiences in community-led fisheries management to advise AMA and Bioclimate on how octopus reserves work, and if and how they could be established in this area of Mozambique.

For the next few hours I find myself working through an exercise that we have called “reef to plate” with the AMA technicians, local fishers and octopus traders. Understanding what happens to the octopus after it has been caught is important so that any management strategies are discussed and agreed by all of the stakeholders, and to ensure that if there is a boost in production there is sufficient capacity within the market to support it.

In southwest Madagascar, local export company Copefrito collects fresh octopus directly from the villages, transferring it directly to its processing plant in the city of Toliara, where it is packaged and exported around the world. In Mozambique they have a different way of doing things though… Once the fisher lands the octopus, it is sold directly to a local trader. These traders then process the octopus, removing the ink sacs and beating the octopus to tenderise the meat, before salting it and drying it on racks in the hot Mozambique sun.


Each of these local traders then sell their dried octopus to larger-scale traders known as Padrão. These Padrões may live on the islands but more commonly live on the mainland (or even as far afield as Tanzania), and visit the islands where they buy large amounts of octopus before sailing on to the larger national markets (or back to Tanzania).

These trading chains will make managing this fishery more complex, as building support for temporary closures from such a diverse field of stakeholders will require considerable coordination… Watch out for my next update from Mozambique, as we continue to find out more with our friends at AMA and Bioclimate!

This project is led by AMA and Bioclimate, and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Blue Ventures would like to thank staff from both organisations for their support and hospitality throughout the visit. 

Thanks to Blue Ventures for this article which can also be found on their website here.


  1. Christine Osborne
    20th March 2014

    The octopus is doomed.

    Everywhere along the coast of East Africa, and in particular the islands lying in the Indian Ocean, in-shore marine life has been fished out.

    AS a result, many families are reduced to catching and eating octopus. Octopus are easy to catch–I’ve dived with octopus fishermen in the Mafi’a archipelago (off Tanzania) octopus and seen how simple it is to hook an animal out of its hole.

    The project above is to be commended, but worldwide action needs to be taken if the friendly octopus is to survive as a species.

    What, for example, is being done to educate Mediterranean islanders, especially the Greek islands and Kerkennah Island lying off Tunisia where octopus fishing is a traditional activity ?

    Thank you.

    • Pete
      28th March 2014

      Hi Christine

      Thanks for your feedback and interest in this article. Its true that coastal fisheries for species such as octopus have been relentless in some areas – these areas are generally easily accessible, either by diving (SCUBA or free diving) or as in many areas, simply by walking out at low tides. I’ve seen this first hand in Madagascar.

      However, the pioneering work of Blue Ventures with regards to octopus fisheries management has helped highlight the massive benefits for controlled management of the octopus. Seasonal closures of fisheries actually benefit both the fishermen and wildlife hugely and communities have really noticed this and are adopting such practices voluntarily as a result. This knowledge and experience is now being spread to other countries, regions and communities. Inevitably it does take time to implement large scale changes, both in terms of legislation and attitudes but things are moving in the right direction for Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.

      In the mean time we’ll look into the Mediterranean octopus issues further. I’d also suggest looking more closely at Blue Ventures and their octopus projects and research, perhaps see how you can get involved?



Leave a Reply