The Seychelles Tuna Fishing Scam
Huge, industrial fishing vessels operate in the Seychelles national waters yearly, looking for a fish known as “blue gold”: tuna. The most sought-after tuna is the yellow fin tuna, but fishers also catch big-eye tuna, skipjack tuna, and swordfish – all of which turn a healthy profit in the international market.
Undeniably, the fishing industry fortifies the Seychelles’ economy. In 2019, the small East African archipelago nation exported about 6,600 metric tons of fish and crustaceans, which brought more than $13 million into the country, according to a local news report. Fisheries is the second most important sector after tourism in the Seychelles, contributing to 20% of the GDP and employing 17% of the population, according to the World Bank. Yet conservationists have long been sounding the alarm that fish stocks, particularly yellow fin tuna (Thunnus albacares), are over harvested.
To address over fishing, the Seychelles decided in 2017 to join the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI), an enterprise born out of global discussions about how to deal with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the waters around Africa, particularly by commercial fleets operated by foreign nations.
Philippe Michaud, a consultant at the Seychelles’ ministry of fisheries, said the country joined FiTI because doing so aligned with the government’s implementation of the “Blue Economy,” a national initiative focused on making fishing and other ocean-related activities more sustainable.
According to Michaud, “I think FiTI should contribute in making people more aware of the problems, because we’re not running out of fish, because we can buy fish every day, we think that it’s going to go on forever. So, we need to mobilize all the different stakeholders and say, ‘This is a problem.’”
In December 2021, the Seychelles released its second report to FiTI, which detailed the government’s efforts to increase public access to certain information about the management and direction of its fisheries. This includes an online registry of large-scale fishing vessels operating in Seychelles waters, and information about what they need to pay to cast their nets and lines in these waters.
While the waters surrounding the Seychelles yield prolific catches, a lot of this fish isn’t being caught by Seychellois themselves, but by fishers from places like China, Taiwan and member states of the European Union.
One of the most contentious issues facing the Seychelles is the overfishing of Indian Ocean yellow fin tuna, which some experts say is being driven by EU-controlled vessels operating under Seychellois flags. According to a Mongabay investigation conducted last year, the Seychelles’ entire purse seine fleet — that is, vessels that use circular, wall-like netting to trap species like tuna — was fully controlled by European interests.
The Seychelles’ second annual report submitted to FiTI, which covers 2020, shows efforts made by the government to increase transparency around many aspects of its fisheries, including its foreign interests. For instance, the government has now published summaries of the license agreements for local and foreign fishers on the Seychelles Fishing Authority’s website.
Although this move seemingly towards transparency should be positive, there are limitations to the information in these reports. For instance, to date nothing has been revealed about how these agreements are negotiated with the EU; the entire industry rests on hidden agreements between the Ramkalawan government & EU member states. Additionally, the Ramkalawan government has attempted to explain away this lack of transparency under the nebulous guise of ‘national security’.
Yet the report shows it isn’t just the EU putting pressure on the Seychelles’ fisheries — it’s also vessels from Taiwan and China. Last year, the Seychelles government published a registry of the 180 large-scale vessels authorized to fish in the country’s EEZ; 66 of them operated under the Taiwanese flag, while eight operated under the Chinese flag. The report also notes that some agreements between the Seychelles and Taiwanese and Chinese fishing interests have not been published due to confidentiality clauses. There’s also insufficient data regarding catches, landings, transhipments, discards, and fishing efforts for the industrial longline fleet, which is largely operated by vessels from Taiwan and China.
What this boils down to is that opaque foreign interests are making huge amounts of profit from Seychellois waters, permitted & facilitated by the government. Why all the secrecy?
The only logical conclusion is that political forces are profiting from these contracts via kickbacks or other underhanded payments. If this wasn’t the case – why has the government in Victoria gone through the motions of window-dressing, presenting reports touting ‘increased transparency’ while at the same time blocking the release of the most critical records.
Something smells fishy in Seychelles.