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The old man and the sea

By Ruth Leeney, 10th October 2018

Since 2015, I have interviewed over 200 fisherfolk and others involved in fisheries, around Madagascar’s coasts. I have been trying to get a better understanding of whether sawfish still inhabit Madagascar’s rivers and coastal waters, and if so, where they can be found. And just as importantly, I have documented the threats facing sawfish, as only when we understand what places sawfish populations at risk, can we develop effective ways to protect them.

In May 2018, whilst showing the educational film ‘Saving Madagascar’s Sawfish’ in northern Madagascar, I met Patrice Jaofara, an 80-year-old fisherman, on the island of Nosy Komba. I took the opportunity to ask him about sawfish and he, like so many of the other fisherfolk I have interviewed in Madagascar, clearly remembered seeing sawfish in his local fishing grounds, and catching them, in his younger days. He spoke of the changes he had observed in the ocean, over the sixty years since he started fishing, and the challenges his community now faces because of declining catches.

Patrice’s story was no less compelling for the fact that it echoed the stories of many other fishers I had spoken to in Madagascar. Fishermen and women have a wealth of knowledge about the places where they fish and the species they encounter, from years or even decades of first-hand experience. When given the opportunity, they can also be powerful communicators. My hope is that Patrice’s poignant account will help people in Madagascar and around the world to realise the urgent need for better protection of our oceans and their inhabitants – not just for the sake of sawfishes but also for the future wellbeing of communities like Patrice’s.

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