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Rivers and the sea

I guess that without the river and ocean’s resources, we would be dead by now.
Bruno, male, 43, Ilafitsignana

Fishing in rivers, lakes and the sea is an important occupation for all four of these coastal communities. Women fish in local rivers and lakes but going to sea is reserved for men, with women occupied in selling the catch.

Narrators compare the difficulties of the present with the past, when fish was abundant and both eaten at home and bartered for other food. They talk at length about the problems they face today as farming has become less viable and reliance on fishing has increased, describing challenges such as decreasing fish stocks; old boats and poor fishing equipment; bad weather; the power of middlemen; and government restrictions on lobster catches.

Port construction for the mining industry has meant the fishermen from Ambinanibe and Ilafitsignana have had to move their boats from their usual location to another area with rougher seas – many boats have been damaged as a result. In addition, they are now restricted to one fishing area, which has effectively destroyed their strategy of changing locations according to season and weather conditions.

In St Luce, middlemen monopolise the fish and lobster market, keeping prices low. Many fishermen end up working for them because they supply boats, which are too expensive for individual fishermen to buy.

Many narrators attribute dwindling fish stocks to the violation of taboos by outsiders, particularly those relating to the rivers. They also give other reasons for their difficulties, such as outdated equipment and acknowledge that the decline in agriculture and increased reliance on fishing have led to overfishing.


The ocean serves as a workplace for people in Ambinanibe. If the sea conditions are good, people are able to provide food to nourish their family; if the sea conditions are bad, people remain on land and their family goes hungry. The rivers and the sea sustain the lives of people here in Ambinanibe.
Damy, male, 29 years, Ambinanibe

Since the construction of the port, sea conditions have been unpredictable, and bad, most of the time; fishermen cannot go fishing everyday… their boats are not suitable for strong waves. They are most in danger when docking their boats in [the new location of] Bevava, because the strong waves coming ashore can break up the boats. I myself got my two boats broken apart there, and up to 300 boats have now been damaged, if not swept out to sea, by the strong waves…
Ilay, male, Ambinanibe

In the past, many fishermen owned boats…We also used to build our own boats but now there are restrictions on use of the forest [products] and the cost of living is high, it has become difficult to build a boat… [Middlemen have] trapped us in a deal. They know that fishermen do not have money to buy a boat at 200,000 ariary so they took advantage of the situation… The condition was that fishermen could still use the boat [supplied by the middlemen] and fix the price for their lobsters … But the agreement was not respected because the buyers drove down the price…
Alter, male, 65 years, St Luce

In the past, fish nibbled at our feet, [because] there were lots of them. We could catch them easily and fill up our big basket in a short time…Now, you have a hard time finding fish. We just wander around searching for other ways to sustain our lives.
Lambo, male, 72 years, Petriky

Fishing was just like collecting sweet potato leaves – too easy – and in a short time period we could fill a huge basket… The children were excited whenever I went to the river because a good catch was guaranteed. During dinner they chose what they liked to eat, because there were many species of fish.
Marie Louise, female, 62 years, Ilafitsignana

In the past, the lobster-trapping period started on May 1 and ended on December 31, because they said that an ‘off period’ was needed to protect lobster from becoming extinct. The lobster season may be closed but our stomachs here in the village don’t know how to shut down…
Lala, female, 40 years, St Luce

Long time ago, we used to catch shrimp and fish just from the shoreline. Since the volume of fishing nets have increased, not only were big fish caught but also those that should lay their eggs… This posed a problem because the river lost its [ability] to maintain its capacity…
Limbisoa, male, 22 years, Ambinanibe

Many visitors who come to the village do not respect the customary rules. As a result, the number of fish and of fish species have decreased…. People from outside the village violate the rules by cleaning slaughtered cows in or near the rivers. They also wear gold jewelry when they swim in the river. In addition, some people wear red cloth while crossing the river; others fish using a worm as bait. There are also some people who consume pork and goat meat and then wash themselves in the river. In addition, the exploding of dynamite nearby has exacerbated the deterioration of the environment. Such violations have an impact on the existence of the river fish.
Brinaldine, female, 42 years, Ilafitsignana


Rivers and the sea is a key theme of the Pushed to the edge oral testimony project.


Constand: middlemen control everything

Olina: money talks

Fanja: forest is forbidden

Sorahy: education is crucial

Kazy: rains aren’t coming

Zanaboatsy: needing the forest

Sambo: life goes on

Jean-Claude: we are not livestock

Rosette: story of change

Bruno: hotter and hotter

Say Louise: when hardships started

Sirily: working for foreigners

Key themes

Background to the region

The project and partners

Rivers and the sea


Land and compensation

Farming and food security

Environmental change


Economic conditions


Cultural and social change

Communications and power relations

Local development

The future