Tanzania turns to technology for octopus fishery management

TANZANIA: IN the turquoise waters of the western Indian Ocean, Tanzania stands as a beacon of octopus production, with catches increasing from 482 tonnes in 1990 to more than 3,400 tonnes in 2023, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

But beneath this shimmering surface lies a delicate balance threatened by overfishing and inadequate management practices, which places fishing-dependent livelihoods at risk.

In response, Tanzania is charting a new course, embracing innovative solutions to safeguard its octopus population against persistent threats from illegal fishing practices to post-harvest losses and inadequate fisheries information.

The government together with The Nature Conservancy, have introduced the FishPath approach, a technology it says will help in sustainable management and harvesting measures regarding octopus.

FishPath is a pioneering approach to assess and manage data-limited fisheries, enabling sustainable practices, especially in regions with constrained monitoring capacities.

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The specialised online tool is designed to enable effective fisheries management based on data such as the amount of the catch, the size and age structure of population, and much more, hence empowering decisionmakers with the technical expertise needed to design tailored harvesting strategies for their fisheries.

The tool will simplify stock assessment and management measures, to address existing gaps in assessing and harvesting octopus stocks, enhancing conservation efforts while supporting vital exports and local markets.

Relatedly, Tanzania is pioneering research initiatives and community-led conservation efforts, which will involve voluntary rotational closure of octopus fishing sites as well as exploring alternative fishing gear.

In Tanzania, octopus harvesting is deeply rooted in tradition, with artisanal methods such as spears and rods being the tools of choice.

While these methods have sustained coastal communities for generations, they also pose sustainability challenges if not managed effectively.

Recently, stakeholders convened in Dar-es-Salaam for a workshop spearheaded by Tanzania’s Director of the Fisheries Development Department, Prof Mohammed Sheikh, who noted the significance of octopus conservation, emphasising its economic, nutritional, and ecological importance to Tanzania and beyond.

“There is every reason to conserve the octopus due to its huge economic, nutritional and ecological significance to Tanzania and the world. In addition to sustaining livelihoods and providing food locally and to other countries, the octopus is an indicator of a healthy coastal ecosystem, especially coral reefs. We all need to work together to conserve it.”

Echoing this sentiment, Dr Tuyeni Mwampamba, TNC’s Director of Science in the Africa Region, highlighted the transformative potential of the FishPath approach in steering octopus fisheries towards sustainability.

“This innovative tool, developed in partnership with leading scientific institutions, promises to empower Tanzania and other Western Indian Ocean countries in their quest for science based fisheries management and production of statistical estimates of stock status.”

For Lucy Magembe, TNC’s Tanzania Country Director, the partnership with Tanzania represents a decade-long commitment to fostering sustainable practices in the country’s Blue Economy.

FishPath tool for assessing and managing data limited fisheries FishPath provides an innovative decision-making process that facilitates sustainable fisheries around the world, particularly in areas with limited monitoring capabilities.

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