Tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean – marine political ecology (PhD Mialy Andriamahefazafy)

With pride and pleasure I’d like to announce the successful doctorate of Mialy Andriamahefazafy, which she defended publicly on July 13. Mialy’s previous work with a marine conservation organisation in coastal Madagascar showed her that local fishers were complaining about big boats fishing offshore, while in the inland capital, government officials were keen on the revenue they could gain through access agreements with foreign tuna fleets. This inspiration led to her thesis work, in which investigated the socio-material matrix through which fishing occurs. She narrowed in on three main topics: how diverse actors ‘access’ the fish, how these actors ‘narrate’ their concerns over overfishing, and whether there is any sense in approaching this issue by appealing to a sense of ‘regional identity’. Mialy undertook fieldwork in three countries (Madagascar, Seychelles, and Mauritius), interviewing more than 223 individuals including small-scale fishers, industrial boat captains and sailors, government officials, cannery workers, retailers and more. Mialy also observed landings of tuna in ports both big and small, and practiced event ethnography by joining delegations to attend two international negotiations.

Her work on narratives shows how different actors (small-scale fishers, industrial fishers, national governments, regional scientists) spin different stories about tuna overfishing and the lack of knowledge about fish stocks, with common motivation in seeking to preserve their own access to these valuable fish. The resource access chapter contributes not only to an understanding of the diverse structures which shape the tuna fishery and its beneficiaries in the Indian Ocean (allowing for us to discover elements not normally dealt with in fisheries management, from Sri Lankan labour on ships, or off-catch secondary markets at ports), it is also an innovative attempt to advance Ribot and Peluso’s “theory of access” by moving it out of the smallholder peasant realm into a multi-scalar, more-than-human marine environment. Finally, Mialy’s consideration of regionalism shows that – in contrast to the South Pacific where there appears to be a tighter cultural and political unity that facilitates better geopolitical negotiations of tuna access – the identity of “Indianoceania” is more or less absent and not a strong tool to unite regional actors in defending access to tuna resources from distant water fishing nations. In the end, Mialy’s work is a plea for sustaining the fish and the people of the Indian Ocean whose livelihoods depend on them.

Mialy’s thesis is an empirically rich monograph with all the depth and detail that this permits (full text available here), but that hasn’t stopped her from publishing articles from her work:

  • Andriamahefazafy, M, CA Kull & L Campling (2019) Connected by sea, disconnected by tuna? Challenges to regionalism in the Southwest Indian Ocean. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region 15 (1):58-77. link, author version pdf
  • Andriamahefazafy, M, & CA Kull (2019). Materializing the blue economy: tuna fisheries and the theory of access in the Western Indian Ocean. Journal of Political Ecology, 26(1), 403-424. special issue link incl. pdf
  • Andriamahefazafy, M, M Bailey, H Sinan & CA Kull (2020) The paradox of sustainable tuna fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean: between visions of blue economy and realities of accumulation. Sustainability Science 15, 75–89 official link. pdf. authors’ version PDF
  • Andriamahefazafy, M., CA Kull, P Leste, P Theresine, & S Echa (2020). Caring for the tuna of the Western Indian Ocean: where politics and ecology meet. Chapter in E. Probyn, K. Johnston, & N. Lee (Eds.), Sustaining Seas: Oceanic Space and the Politics of Care (pp. 59-71). London: Rowman and Littlefield. official link. research gate pdf.

Mialy was recently profiled in the magazine of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) as one of a dozen women who are making a difference in coastal and marine resource management – see image below. The full issue can be downloaded here.

I will be sad to lose Mialy when she leaves UNIL at the end of the year. She has been an outstanding doctoral student and teaching assistant. Mialy is a quick learner, a talented manager, and an engaging researcher. She possesses enthusiasm, initiative, and a consistent commitment to marine issues in the western Indian Ocean. I wish her all the best. Misaotra betsaka indrindra!

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