A Trip to the Village: A Fish Monitors Perspective, By Kristoffer

It’s the night before, and all are gathered around the kitchen table. Lalas, the volunteer coordinator, looks up from his meal, “We will do fish tomorrow in the village” he says. I respond, “What time?” although I already suspect the answer. “6:30”, he replies, and thus it is set. The evening continues, with music, talk, and games passing the time until I retire, aware that I must rise early.

After a peaceful sleep I am awoken by the sound of ducks foraging outside the volunteer house, checking my watch I find that it’s 5:50, I have at least 20 minutes until I need to leave the comfort of bed. But the time quickly passes and I am forced to get up. I make sure I can find everything I will need; camera, pen, water, and booklet, and then go to the center to wait. Standing before the locked gate, I wait for Lalas to awaken and check with Shala in the village, to see if the fisherman did indeed go out the night before. I can hear rustling and low tones emanating from the small bedroom until Lalas calls out, “Yep”. To confirm I inquire, “They went fishing?”. Once again Lalas replies with, “Yep”. With that, I return to the volunteer house, to change out of my pajamas and into my work clothes. Returning dressed and fully equipped I find Lalas with the rice for the fisherman, the bucket and scale to weigh their catch, the tape to measure their catch, and the bag to hold it all.

Barefoot, we begin the kilometer to the village in the crisp morning air. Having barely woken up, little talk passes between us. I begin setting up the data sheet, creating headings and filling in the date. We quickly make our way to the outskirts, where fires have already been lit, and people have begun milling about. We exchange the customary Malagasy greeting, “Salama” with all we pass. Lalas exchanges a few words in Malagash with some, and some of the children even call out my name. We make our way through the huts until we reach the one inhabited by todays fisherman. Greetings are uttered, words spoken, the fisherman paid, and then work begins.

The mosquito net, used for fishing, is laid out as a place to sit and sort the catch. With Lalas translating, I manage to gather the preliminary information; who were the fisherman, where did they fish, how long did the fish for, how did they fish? The bag containing the creatures is first weighed, the weight in kilos recorded by me, and then emptied onto the net. This morning it appears that shrimp dominate the catch, the only data we record of the shrimp is their total weight in kilos and value in ariary, so we begin with the crab. Each crab is caught, then sent to Lalas, who determines the length of the crab in centimeters and the gender. I record this information in the notebook, keeping count of how many crabs were caught in total. Like most mornings, the majority of the crabs are male, and measuring considerably less than 8cm in length. Lalas and I then begin searching the pile for fish. As usual, this proves a difficult task as the mosquito net allows few fish through, so there are many small fish hidden amongst the drifts of shrimp. Sorting by species, we spend the better part of half an hour piling up all the different fish that we can find. Several species are too numerous to measure each fish individually. For these we take a count and record an average body size. For all others Lalas calls out the species and size, and I record the size and number.

Once all this is complete, Lalas weighs the crabs and asks the price for them, while I record the total weight and price for the catch of crab. We repeat this process for the fish and shrimp, and with that are mornings work is complete. We dust ourselves off, gather our stuff, and with a cry of, “Valooma”, begin our journey home. Smelling of fish, I realize I must wash my hands before breakfast. I say as much to Lalas, to which he starts and, with a self-deprecating laugh, cries out, “I forgot to get the breakfast”.

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