Case Study

Madagascar Nearshore Fisheries

Author: Christopher D. Golden


Local Malagasy in the Bay of Antongil are heavily reliant on seafood for nutrition, and any disruptions to the seafood supply could prove very detrimental to overall nutritional status and threaten nutritional resilience. Climate change associated increases in the frequency and intensity of cyclones (World Bank 2018) have led to detrimental impacts on coral reef fisheries productivity for two primary reasons: 1) coral reef damage that led to reduced habitat availability and perceived reductions in fish availability; and 2) reduced water quality and dangerous wave conditions making it more difficult to fish. These coral reef damages can lead to long-term consequences on the quality of the fishery, and the ocean conditions lead to acute circumstances of food shocks that can last for more than one month. Socio-economic diversity, connection to place, ecosystem modularity, and indigenous knowledge seem to be the key resilience attributes that influence the system. In sum, the nutritional resilience of the local Malagasy people in the Bay of Antongil in northeastern Madagascar is threatened by the increasing frequency and intensity of cyclonic damage to coastal ecosystems.


The Malagasy multi-species subsistence fishery in Antongil Bay provides critical nutritional support to the local Betsimisaraka people who harvest a vast diversity of approximately 120 species for food (Golden et al. in prep.). Many local Betsimisaraka have a vulnerable nutritional status in this region, and are dependent on an autarchic food production system which is driven by seasonal cycles of natural resource and agricultural production (Golden et al. 2019). The fishery is entirely small-scale subsistence and artisanal fishers, with key gear used being fishing nets, hook and line, and harpoon guns in addition to gleaning by hand.

Climate Impact

There are a variety of environmental shocks affecting the fishery in this region including coral bleaching; sea temperature rise; increased cyclonic activity; deforestation and erosion leading to sedimentation into the reef; and harmful algal blooms. The focus of this case study is on increased cyclonic activity, and the northeastern region has a long history of being the locus of greatest burden in Madagascar (Nash et al. 2015).

Resilience Story

Local Malagasy in this region have low socio-economic diversity, but high agricultural diversity that lends itself to supporting nutritional resilience. Sourcing foods/harvests from multiple sources is essential for nutritional resilience and thus this local cultural norm is a protective behavior in this context. Inter-generational indigenous knowledge transfer regarding fishing, food production, and nutrition is essential in building nutritional resilience. Receiving knowledge from fellow community members flows freely but scientific knowledge in shaping risk perception is scarce. Knowing how and where to fish, and when to give up certain areas, are lessons learned across generations. Sharing fishing times, productive locations, efficient gears and technologies, and other forms of intellectual collaboration enable resiliency in this system.

Ecosystem modularity and strong cultural connection to place may both inhibit nutritional resilience. Viewing nutritional resilience at a seascape level, there is significant variation in the quality of marine habitats and reefs along the Antongil Bay coast, and these micro-ecosystems appear to be fairly disconnected from each other. This high modularity of ecosystems and the relatively narrow fishing grounds by village would lead to targeted issues of nutrient supply shocks in some communities where ecological conditions are disturbed. Higher connectivity would enable nutrient supplies to flow more freely across villages and increase seascape-level nutritional resilience.


Golden, C. D., Borgerson, C., Rice, B. L., Allen, L. H., Anjaranirina, E. J. G., Barrett, C. B., … & Vonona, M. A. (2019). Cohort description of the Madagascar Health and Environmental Research–Antongil (MAHERY–Antongil) study in Madagascar. Frontiers in nutrition, 109.

Nash, D. J., Pribyl, K., Klein, J., Endfield, G. H., Kniveton, D. R., & Adamson, G. C. (2015). Tropical cyclone activity over Madagascar during the late nineteenth century. International Journal of Climatology, 35(11), 3249-3261.

World Bank. 2018. Climate Change and Health Diagnostic: Madagascar. Risks and Opportunities for Climate-Smart Health and Nutrition Investment. Investing in Climate Change and Health Series. Eds. Bouley, T., Golden, C.D., Guillemot, J., Ebi, K. Washington, DC.

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Giacomo Bernardi, Felix Caron, Sabrina Devereaux, Heather Kelahan, Andy Kim, Adolphe Manambina, Andriamarivo Pascal, Hervet Randriamady, Fred Randrianasolo, Miadana Arisoa Vonona, Daniel Viana, Gerandine Zafindalana, and Jessica Zamborain-Mason.

Photo: Fishers in Madagascar. © Christopher D. Golden