|Artisanal catch (Tim Holt)|
The Seychelles food staple is fish and rice. The rice comes from overseas but the fish from our waters. As individuals we eat more fish than almost anyone else in the world - every Seychellois eats 65 to 75 kilos of fish every year.
But both the fish we eat and those who fish for them are in trouble.The local artisanal fishery has reached that critical stage which fisheries biologists call “fully exploited” with some fish stocks over-exploited and even depleted according to reports from the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA). The decline in important fish species caught by the artisanal fishery, such as the iconic Emperor red snapper or bourzwa in Creole, is something that goes far beyond the sector and threatens the sustainability of Seychellois society.
Now, a new study has shown that artisanal fishermen or fishers (in gender-sensitive speak) are also in danger – they are the most destitute economic group in Seychelles. The poverty study funded by the UNDP showed that 17% of our population is living below the poverty line. The households especially affected by poverty are the larger families and fisher families. Yet, in a 2006 report the Central Bank of Seychelles said that the earnings of artisanal fishers are relatively high. The sector seems to have done well. Exports from this local fishing sector stood at around R20 million per year in the 1990’s and early 2000.
When I was working at the Seychelles Fishing Authority back in the ‘80s, we were worried that the population of fishers was aging with few graduates of the then Maritime School joining the sector. I worked with others at SFA in many outreach and skills and technology transfer programs for fishers to try to remedy the situation.. The Development Bank of Seychelles has also been providing loans to artisanal fishers since that time.
The Maritime Training Centre (MTC) has been restructured several times to meet the needs of the fishing and general maritime sector. But today, like in the ‘80s, very few young people are taking up artisanal fishing as a job. A large number of the graduates of the MTC are young women who prefer jobs in tourism, maritime transport, conservation and other activities.
Any good news in the offing? Not really. Trades tax on imported fresh and chilled fish has been reduced from 200% to 25% as of September 1st. This move comes because piracy has constrained certain fishing operations leading to shortages at times. But the prospects of foreign currency being used in bringing fish from overseas and imported fish competing with the local catch are not exactly conducive to investment and growth in the sector.
We may in fact experience the reverse of import-substitution. Additional to the fish that’s exported, about 40 per cent of the total catch is consumed by tourists and crews of foreign vessels. This is beneficial to the fishers who can get a better price for their fish. This lucrative market for local fish may shrink as imported fish takes its place.
It seems we are facing a double crisis - one of disappearing fish and fishers As fish and fishers get scarcer, the price of locally caught fish will rise steeply putting it in outside the budget of some. More and more people may become malnourished. That group living below the poverty line will get much larger. The entire fabric of our society will be affected.
(Adapted from Gaia, 30 August 2012, the author’s column in The People newspaper, 30/8/12)
Alexis. M, and A.Chang-Sam. 2006. Fisheries Industry of the Seychelles: At a crossroad. Central Bank of Seychelles Quarterly Review, Vol. XXIV NO.1 CBS Quarterly Report
Anon. 2011. Status of Resources. South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission. FAO. SFS/DM/SWIOFC/11 3 E. SWIOFC Status of Resources
Muller, C. 2012. Poverty in Seychelles: Policy Digest. Government of Seychelles/United Nations Development Programme. Unpublished Report.