Traditional Sea fishing in the Indian Ocean

This year we decided to have a more relaxed holiday and instead of backpacking around the humid jungles and cities of south East Asia or the baron and ancient vistas of Iceland. We decided on an all inclusive two week break on the island of Mauritius.
At the last minute I decided to pack my camera equipment and did some quick research on the wildlife I could expect to encounter on this small and beautiful island.

I told my partner in Advance I wouldn't spend my time chasing bugs and wildlife all over the island to take photos , I would just sit by the pool all day and drink cocktails and maybe do a couple of day trips...

...Each morning we'd awake and I would drink a coffee from our balcony and look out to the horizon and see five or six tiny one or two person fishing boats dotted about on the horizon.


Setting off early in the morning from Belle Mar Beach.

One fisherman would arrive on his small old fashioned motorbike each morning at 7:15 on the dot! He would then pack a small amount assembled of items on to his small white boat before slowly dispersing off to the edge of the lagoon where his boat would be a tiny dot. The reef separated the flat lagoon from eastbound turbulent seas which would throw up huge crashing waves each day.


Dhramdeo Meetooa and his fathers have fished the Indian ocean for hundreds of years.

At 11:00 am his beat up white boat would arrive back on the shore and he would cast off his Clement block a anchor into the clear blue shallows. He would slowly get off the old boat and pack his catch into a small blue plastic container, greet some locals and finally ride off down the beach on his bike.

After a week of staying in the resort, I was sat having a beer on my balcony and I saw the small white fishing boat returning from a morning at sea. I quickly grabbed my camera with my 24-105mm lens and ran down to the beach. I waded out slowly out to my waste in the water keeping my equipment above my head as not to get it wet. I asked if I could please take some photos of him and some of the fish he had caught. He smiled and nooded and held up two octopuses and let me photograph them.


Two Octopus caught from one of his 7 cages.

Slowly in a conversation of broken English with lots of gesturing with our hands we started to talk about his catch and how much in Mauritian rupees he would earn for these octopuses. He kindly explained each octopus could fetch around 200 rupees each, so both together would be 400 or so rupees depending on who would buy them in the local market. In UK pounds this would be 8 pounds. He explained octopus was a good catch and didn't happen that often. We talked for a few more minutes which was quite hard as the language barrier was proving frustrating. Quite unexpectedly he asked if I would like to spend the next morning out with him whilst he caught his fish and I could photograph him at work.


It takes great skill to navigate the dangerous reefs on Belle Mar

He explained that he would set 6 houses which translated were cages, the night before and the following day he would seek them out and pull them aboard and see if the gods had been kind to him.

I immediately responded yes and asked how much he would charge for this amazing opportunity. He responded " You tell me". I was stumped for a few seconds then worked out that if he had made 400 rupees for the two octopus then if I offered 500 rupees his day was covered and anything extra he caught would be a bonus.


Searching for one of his cages on the bottom of the reef.

That number was put forward and he agreed. We arranged to meet by his boat on the beach at 7:15 and he told me his name was Dhramdeo Meetooa. The next morning under a brilliant sunrise I sat on the beach waiting with my camera equipment for Dhramedo to arrive. As on previous days, dead on 7:15am he arrived on his old bike. After we greeted each other we quickly boarded his white boat and pushed off from the shallows and headed out to deeper water.


Balance is key when using a small fishing boat at sea.

Dhramedo had a long pole to propel the boat forward almost like how gondolas are used in Venice. How he found his cages used a great amount of skill and intelligence as the sea to me looked completely disorientating and it all looked the same. He managed to navigate across reefs and sand bars to the exact spot the cages were with ease and speed.


Collecting a cage from the ocean floor.

Once at the location he lowered another pole with a hook into the water and slowly pulled up a cage and lifted it aboard his boat. Some cages were almost empty and other cages contained fish of all different color and shapes. Some of the fish I recognised like the Threadfin butterflyfish, Moorish Idol and the Sergeant Major Fish.


A Moorish Idol fish is just one of the many colourful fish caught in his cage.

The bait in the cages ranged from part of an octopus which was extremely smelly and looked like black paste to dead fish. He explained that octopus paste is the best bait possible. He also used bright green weed which small fish fed on.


Using part of an octopus as bait is a proven way to catch fish.

It was interesting to see all the bait used was organic and from the sea so it cost nothing it was recycling at its best. Towards the end of the fishing trip Dhramedo spoted a shell inside the cage, pulled it out and smashed it on the wooden seat of his boat and a huge hermit crab which was brightly color appeared! He quickly stabbed it on a long metal pole and put it back in the cage for bait. I later found out the name for this crab is a Strawberry hermit crab. After collecting the 8 cages we returned to the beach and we said our goodbyes and shook hands It was a fantastic experience to spend a morning traditionally fishing with a local. Finally I asked if I could buy him a gift from the UK and send to him to say thank you. His response was a Liverpool football shirt in Extra large.


Navigating the ocean through landmarks and reefs.

After his morning at sea Dhramedo would make the short journey back to his family. He would spend the afternoon working with his wife in a small plantation growing garlic which she would sell at the local market. Dhramedo was 60 years old and had a wife and two children. Both of his sons worked locally in hotels nearby. Dhramedo came from a family of fishermen as his father had taught him to fish and navigate the sea.


A moment to reflect.

This experience showed me that a fisherman can catch enough food for his family to eat and enough to sell to the market to make extra money. It wasn’t fishing on a huge scale where the seas are plundered and Unsustainable fishing is damaging fish stocks and the environment. its sustainable fishing on a small scale whereby the fisherman understands the environment and respects it and it has been that way for hundreds of years.


Dhramdeo Meetooa a masterful fisherman.