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WHERE HAVE THE FISH GONE : Documentary film, Vey nou Lagon, tries to find the answer

Filming began this week on a project by two young Mauritians that takes an innovative look at the degradation of the lagoons and ocean around Mauritius, while also offering some thought-provoking suggestions for how to address the problems.
Zara Currimjee of Poste Lafayette and Vanina Harel of Mt. Choisy have brought their film-making and environmental expertise together with the goal of telling the story of the Mauritian lagoon through the eyes of a local fisherman.
Georgie comes from a family of fishermen, and his father was able to raise 11 children from the money he made from his work. But Georgie is struggling. The father of two children, he can’t make it as a full-time fisherman and works three jobs to make ends meet. What he wonders, has happened to the ocean and to the fish that inhabit it? With the financial assistance of several organizations in the United States and Mauritius, Currimjee and Harel pick up the story from there with their documentary film, which will be released in May 2016.
In the following interview, Currimjee and Harel tell how they developed the concept for the film, and why they feel the film’s subject and message are so important.
What inspired you to take on this project? And how did the two of you come together to form this partnership?
We are two young Mauritians who grew up snorkelling, diving, and fishing in the most beautiful of backyards. However, we did not realize the value of our lagoons until we left Mauritius. Studying biology and environmental sciences, we learned about the current threats to our oceans. Going back home every year on holiday, we witnessed ocean degradation through the drastic decline in coral reef cover and the exponential increase of algae on our reefs. We are now committed to saving our lagoons.
We went to school together in Mauritius and then moved away to finish our studies. After living in different countries for 6 years, we reconnected when we coincidentally moved to Washington, D.C. at the same time two years ago. We realized that we had the same passion for conservation and the ocean, with complementary skills, so our partnership came naturally.
The approach of your film is unique in that it tells the story of the degradation of the lagoons in Mauritius from the point of view of a local fisherman. Why are you taking this approach?
Our documentary is an inspirational film in the voice of a local fisherman, and with testimonials from fishers in Rodrigues who have experienced the success of the octopus fishing closure. We believe that personal stories from fishers will grab the audience emotionally in a way that statistics and pictures of depleted lagoons simply cannot.
Fishers are the ones who are in the water every day, they know the intricacies of our lagoons better than anyone else. They are the ones who are living the changes first hand and have stories to tell. They are ready to work towards a healthier ocean and it is altogether that we will succeed. They have the will, and by making their voices heard, we want to give them a way.
What kinds of conclusions are you drawing about the environmental health of the oceans around Mauritius, and what will be the proposed solutions?   You mention, for example, the creation of protected marine areas around the island. How would this actually function, and what must be done to make it happen in terms of legislation or support from the government?
The most valuable lesson we have learned so far is that for any initiative to be sustainable and self-sustaining, we really need everyone to work together. We need scientists to work with fishers as well as policy-makers to develop sound and science-based recommendations. We need the government to support the regulations and implement them. We need citizens to understand and respect them to make sure that they are properly enforced. It’s only as a tight community that we will succeed. Together, let’s Vey nou Lagon.
You place a big emphasis on the role and responsibility of fishermen in protecting the marine environment by being careful stewards of the fisheries. What kinds of incentives could be offered to fishermen not to overfish?
Community-driven conservation has been proven effective in other countries including, Barbuda, Brazil, Madagascar, and even Rodrigues. Fisheries management efforts by coastal communities can improve catches, boost income, and build local engagement in marine conservation.
Rodrigues has taken impressive initiatives, including closing octopus fishing for two months of the year for the first time in 2012. Following this first temporary closure, annual catches of octopus for 2012 are almost back to their levels in 2003 after 15 years of decline.
We will be going to Rodrigues in early July to spend time and learn from the fishers there who have experienced the results of the octopus fishing season closure. We will bring their stories back with us, and hope that they are an inspiration and an incentive for fishers in Mauritius to find the right balance for sustainable fishing.
In our fisherman Georgie’s words: « if fishers and policy-makers control our seas how they should, we can get its richness back.
What can other users and overseers of the oceans – such as average Mauritians, recreational fishermen, the government of Mauritius, industries that produce runoff into the sea, and the tourism industry – do to help or to change their routines or practices?
Our daily actions have a direct impact on the underwater environment, and taking small steps can make a significant difference. For example, being aware of the plastic we use and the trash we produce can go a long way. Most of the trash that is not well disposed eventually ends up in the ocean. While plastic slowly disintegrates, it never disappears.
What you can do:
Pick up trash, even if it’s not yours
Use reusable bags when you go to the bazaar and the supermarket
Bring aluminium cans, paper, carton, and plastic to recycling bin
Make sure the water you release has been treated properly and doesn’t contain nutrients that
Favor algae growth at the expense of corals
Use organic fertilisers or pesticides
Save water to minimize wastewater runoff in the sea
Don’t throw your boat anchor on corals
Don’t touch corals or other sea creatures
Don’t catch small fish to allow them to grow and reproduce
Don’t kill sharks and turtles, they keep the ecosystem in balance
Respect regulations in marine protected areas and marine reserves even if you are a recreational fisherman
Limit boating activities in the lagoon as it disrupts the seafloor, increases the amount of sediment in the water that blocks sunlight and in turn prevents corals from growing
Use coral-friendly sunscreen

What scientific evidence is there to demonstrate the poor state of lagoons and the ocean around Mauritius?
Overfishing and other destructive fishing practices have severely decreased the world’s fish populations all around the world.The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 90 percent of the marine fisheries worldwide are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted, or recovering from overexploitation.
In recent years, Mauritian waters have lost 50 to 60 percent of their reef cover and 81 percent of the reefs in the lagoon are at risk of overfishing, pollution and run-offs. Data collected at fish landing stations around Mauritius have shown a gradual decline in the overall landings for artisanal fishery.
Our marine ecosystems worldwide, and in Mauritius, are at a tipping point. However, as mentioned above, taking small individual steps can make a big difference. By changing our practices, we can allow our lagoons and reefs to recover and become more resistant to global changes that we cannot control. Together, we can create waves of change.
Many blame degradation of the fisheries on overfishing by foreign fleets coming close to Mauritius. What’s your view on this, and how might it be addressed?
Mauritius is a small island, but a big ocean state. Even though Mauritius is a small dot, sometimes even omitted, on maps, our nation manages almost 2 million square km of water, the equivalent to the landmasses of Spain, Italy, Germany, and the U.K.
Patrolling such a huge zone, given the size of our nation and with the capacity and resources that are at our disposition, is not an easy task.
It can be addressed by ensuring that licenses are properly issued and that the fishing activities are done responsibly. It is also important to make sure our fishing vessels are properly equipped with an efficient monitoring, control and surveillance system in place.
What is the target date for release of the film and who is the target audience? How will it be distributed in Mauritius and abroad?
The film is scheduled for a release in May 2016. The majority of the audience will be local. Vey nou Lagon will be screened on the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation channels and in schools and villages around the island, with a potential theatrical release.
 Screenings will be followed by discussions and Questions & Answers sessions with the audience to empower people to participate in community-driven conservation initiatives. The film will also be used by local conservation organizations as part of their awareness campaigns. DVDs of the film will also be available for purchase.
At the international level, the film will be screened in Washington, D.C. through the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and submitted to environmental film festivals worldwide. Subtitled in English and French, it will also be accessible to international television channels. Finally, depending on the success of the documentary and the demand, we hope to share it with a wider audience by using home video networks such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon
How is the film being financed?
National Geographic is currently our main funder. We are so thankful for their help and to all our other supporters: Trimetys, Air Mauritius, the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritius in Washington, D.C. We are also fiscally sponsored by Women in Film & Video which allows for tax-deductible donations.
Thanks to our sponsors we have raised enough money for the pre-production and production stages of the movie. We are still looking for funds for the post-production and distribution, and are in contact with additional potential sponsors in Mauritius and internationally.
Interested individuals can contribute through our online donation platform, available on our website www.veynoulagon.

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