FADs, stocks, overfishing: Regional members of IOTC meet in Seychelles to consider proposals
The mounting problem of lost FADs from the tuna fishing industry. (Tony Jupiter, ICS Seychelles)
Seychelles met together with high-level government officials of the fisheries sector from Tanzania, Kenya and Comoros to discuss draft proposals for the upcoming Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting, seeking these countries' consideration for co-sponsoring proposals.
The fisheries minister from Seychelles, Comoros and Tanzania, and the fisheries principal secretary of Kenya met in the second Ministerial Summit of Fisheries Ministers of the South-West Indian Ocean on Thursday.
Seychelles' fisheries minister, Jean-Francois Ferrari, outlined that during this year's Ministerial Summit, eastern African coastal countries were included "as we want to bring them together as they are all countries that use purse seining as a method of fishing."
As with the previous summit, the aim of the second one is to have an exchange of ideas for the upcoming 27th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to be held between May 8 to May 12, in Mauritius this year.
"We cannot afford to continue working in isolation in the face of the many common challenges that confront us today. By collaborating, we can find solutions to these challenges and ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries and the well-being of our communities," said Ferrari.
The issues he outlined were the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs), fish stock, catching of undersized fish around purse seine fishing, which were raised once more in the last IOTC meeting held in Mombasa, Kenya in February.
This resulted in the Commission voting to adopt a proposal for a 72-day ban on FAD fishing by purse seiners in the Indian Ocean, as the devices have been shown to contribute to overfishing because they attract juvenile fish as well as endangered turtles, sharks and marine mammals that get caught up in purse seiner nets.
"Seychelles objected to these measures that we considered to be a bit arbitrary and without a scientific base. We are now bringing all the countries that have the same interest as us together so we can hold discussions and see how we can move forward. We want to have frank and honest discussions, and that decisions are taken off a scientific base," said Ferrari.
Speaking to the press, the fisheries minister of Zanzibar, Tanzania, Suleiman Makame, shared the view of Ferrari to base decisions on scientific data.
"It doesn't matter whether somebody likes it or not, but if science allows us to use the ocean scientifically using our purse seine fishing, we don't have any problem," said Makame.
The principal secretary for the State Department of Blue Economy and Fisheries of Kenya, Betsy Njagi, outlined that "Kenya is willing to work with like-minded countries so that we can be able to discuss the issues that have been addressed on the socio and economic issues in the South-West Indian Ocean countries in relation to the purse seiners and FADs and so forth."
"The importance of us member countries coming together is to discuss the governance, the policy, the resolutions, the recommendations in the Indian Ocean space, the reason being that these are factors that affect our communities. If we don't look at these factors critically and we base our argument on the scientific, part of it will be misleading our communities and will not be just to our communities," said Njagi.
The deadline for submission of proposals to the Commission for the upcoming meeting is on April 8.
The first Indian Ocean Fisheries Ministerial Summit Meeting was held last year on May 5 and saw the participation of the fisheries ministers from Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros and Madagascar.
FADs or no FADs?
Seychelles' tuna fisheries industry relies heavily on French and Spanish purse seiner fishing fleets that use FADs and there are fears of the effects the ban would have on the income of the main port activity and tuna cannery operations, which would impact the economy in general.
However, when the Seychelles' position was announced, the CEO of Nature Seychelles, the country's oldest nature conservation organisation, Dr Nirmal Shah, harshly criticised the government's stance, saying that it was "hypocritical", given that the country is a champion of ocean conservation internationally, yet is against a ban on harmful fishing practices.
Furthermore, the Federation of Artisanal Fishermen of the Indian Ocean (FPAOI) condemned the IOTC ban on FADs as a "sham".
The president of the FPAOI, Keith Andre from Seychelles, said the ban only concerns international waters and therefore leaves all the room in the world for industrial vessels to sacrifice the future of fish stocks in the exclusive economic zones of their flag countries in the Indian Ocean.
"For the FPAOI, only a total ban on the use of drifting FADs by tuna seiners would be a courageous and effective measure for the preservation and recovery of stocks, particularly yellowfin tuna," said Andre in February.