"We have nothing to hide, but everything to share"
Rural 21: Mr Michaud, the Republic of Seychelles has been a FiTI Candidate country since April 2020 and the first to submit a Transparency Report. Why did your country decide to join the Initiative?
Philippe Michaud: With an Economic Exclusive Zone of 1,365 square kilometres and a land mass of only 454 square kilometres, Seychelles is an oceanic state, and all its activities revolve around the ocean. It now fully focuses on the development of ocean-based activities, essentially tourism and fisheries. Tourism and fisheries are the two main pillars of the Seychelles economy and they have to be sustainable. Marine fisheries are a key contributor to the social, economic and cultural fabric of Seychelles. Good governance is essential and for this industry to prosper there needs to be full participation from all stakeholders and not just government. Furthermore, transparency and participation are some of the key principles of the Blue Economy which government is actively promoting.
The country’s decision to become a FiTI Candidate country was taken with the full support of the then Seychelles president and other stakeholders. Seychelles’ main objective to become FiTI-compliant was to use the initiative to provide the Seychelles’ government with clear procedural guidelines for gathering, verifying and disclosing relevant information on fisheries. It is expected that this will benefit all the fisheries industry – industrial, semi-industrial and artisanal – as well as civil society and investors helping Seychelles to progress as one of the leaders in sustainable fisheries management internationally.
Rural 21: Who are the stakeholders in the process?
Michaud: The process started with a strong implication and support from government. It then invited and involved civil society and the industry. Initially the National Multi-Stakeholder Group, the NMSG, consisted of seven members but it was then extended to twelve to include representatives from the industry, youth and fishermen from Praslin, which is the second biggest island of Seychelles. Government representatives comprised a member of the Ministry of Fisheries and two members of the National Assembly, one of whom speaks for government and the other for the opposition. The civil society through the Citizens Engagement Platform, Seychelles, or CEPS, appointed two members from NGOs, and there is one member of Transparency Initiative Seychelles. The fisheries sector consists of one representative from the artisanal fishermen, one from industrial fishery and one from the fish processors. As chair of the NMSG, I have been stressing that each member has an alternate, as members can’t always be present at all meetings.
Rural 21: Was it difficult to get all stakeholders on board? And are all interests really heard?
Michaud: One big problem we have been facing is that the fishing sector, especially the local fishermen, have weak organisations representing them. This makes it difficult to select members of the different sub-sectors. Nevertheless, efforts are being made to better empower the artisanal fishermen. The meetings of the National Multi-Stakeholder Group have, however, been conducted in a pleasant and constructive atmosphere. It is also very encouraging to see the members of the two political parties working in a bipartisan way.
Rural 21: What practical consequences will your participation have for the stakeholders in the fisheries sector?
Michaud: The presentation of the first FiTI report has highlighted certain lack of information regarding the acquisition of data and certain gaps in reporting, especially by foreign licence holders. Identifying these gaps has contributed to the improvement of the next report, which is being prepared by the report complier. The report was much appreciated by the parliamentarians when we had a working meeting with them. It enabled them to seek more clarifications in certain areas such as beneficial ownership. In future, more attention will be given to these issues. Civil society’s interest in foreign fishing agreements has contributed towards making many of these agreements subsequently available to the public. It will lead to a better dialogue between all sides and reduce misinformation, so as to focus on the real issues benefiting the country.
Rural 21: Are benefits already being felt?
Michaud: Benefits are resulting from interest being shown by a wide range of stakeholders in areas such as making the names of licence holders in the very lucrative sea cucumber fishery publicly available, comparing of the various foreign fishing agreements, the state of the various stocks, etc. The strong involvement of all the NMSG members contributed to coming up with 34 recommendations on how government can further strengthen the country’s leadership in fisheries transparency. These range from creating an online vessel registry to publishing the results of recent stock assessments of fish in our waters. They have also generated an interest in the press and in the social media about the importance of the fishery and also the problems the industry is facing.
At the launch of the FiTI Report, the Minister of Fisheries and the Blue Economy, Jean-François Ferrari, did not hesitate to emphasise the significance of Seychelles’ policy on fisheries: “This government has a clear vision to make Seychelles’ fisheries the most transparent in the world. We have nothing to hide, we have everything to share.”
Rural 21: Would you recommend other countries to follow your example?
Michaud: A country’s general credibility is greatly enhanced if it operates in a transparent way with essential information such as fishery access agreements, revenue earned and status of fish stocks, etc., made publicly available. The fact that there is active participation between government and civil society representatives increases the confidence of investors, as they know that they will be operating in a country with a ‘level playing field’ where all governments provide information according to a coherent framework.
Stakeholders, such as governments and the commercial fishing industry, are increasingly aware that improvements in transparency are not only expected of them, but will be beneficial to their interests. By making fisheries management more transparent and inclusive, the FiTI yields benefits for all stakeholders. In Seychelles, we also believe that the Initiative will greatly contribute towards the success of our Mahé Plateau Trap and Line Fishery Co-Management Plan, as all stakeholders know that they are considered as equal and essential partners and have access to credible information.
I believe that countries who seriously believe in good governance of the fisheries sector have every interest in joining FiTI.
Philippe Michaud was interviewed by Silvia Richter.
The Seychelles' fisheries sector
The Seychelles' fisheries sector consists essentially of three sub-sectors: artisanal fishery, semi-industrial fishery and industrial tuna fishing.
Artisanal fishery plays a significant role in food security, employment and revenue earnings. It is exclusively reserved and practised by Seychellois small-scale fishermen targeting mainly demersal and semi-pelagic species. Fishing vessels range in length from 4 to 15 metres, and the main gear the fleet use includes hook and line, drop-lines, traps and nets. The estimated total catch recorded in 2016 amounted to 2,516 metric tons approximately 80 per cent of which was from line fishery and 16 per cent from trap fishery, while invertebrate fisheries contributed 4 per cent to the total artisanal catch. The fishery is mostly limited to the Mahé Plateau, an area of around 40,000 square kilometres. Certain stocks on the Plateau are overfished, and management measures are urgently required.
The semi-industry, which started in 1995, targets mainly tuna and swordfish. In 2018 there were 41 vessels ranging from 14 to 23 metres in length. These vessels operate mainly in the Seychelles Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) though a few operate at time on the high seas. In 2018, the reported catch was 1,228 metric tons. In recent years, this fishery has faced a number of challenges including limited export demand and debt repayment problems.
Sea cucumber fishery, which began in the early 1980s and has experienced rapid growth, is a further branch. By 1999, there were already signs of population depletion, including lower volumes of high value species and fishermen having to dive deeper to maintain catch rates. Concerns were also raised about the sustainability of the fishery. In response to local depletions of some species, the Seychelles Fishery Ministry implemented some management measures in 1999.
Regarding industrial tuna fishing, Port Victoria, the archipelago’s capital, is an important centre for the purse seine fishery which developed in the mid 1980s. Now, around 44 purse seiners are licenced to fish in Seychelles waters, the majority of them under a Sustainable Fisheries Partnership with the European Union. Thirteen others are Seychelles-flagged vessels, and the rest are from Mauritius and South Korea. This is by far the most important fishery in Seychelles and is a crucial source of foreign exchange, employment and revenue. The challenge is to ensure that the country benefits more from such fishery. Yellowfin tuna, which is the second most important tuna fishery after
skipjack, is considered to be overfished.
Then there is the industrial long-line fishery, which is dominated by the South East Asian fleets and which focuses mainly on the high value frozen sashimi market. Seychelles has around 60 industrial longliners, which are flagged in Seychelles but are foreign owned. Very little catch is landed or transhipped in Seychelles, as these vessels very rarely call on ports. Apart from vessel registration, Vessel Monitoring Scheme (VMS) administrative fees and agents’ fees, there are no significant contributions to the Seychelles economy.
FiTI Website: https://www.fiti.global
The FiTI standard: https://www.fiti.global/fiti-standard
FiTi: Seychelles launches 1st FiTI Report ever! https://www.fiti.global/seychelles-launches-1st-fiti-report-ever
Rise up: Seychelles And Mauritania Submit World’s First Reports To Fisheries Transparency Initiative. https://www.riseupfortheocean.org/2021/06/seychelles-and-mauritania-submit-worlds-first-reports-to-fisheries-transparency-initiative/