Philippe Michaud is an economist, and has been actively involved in the Seychelles fisheries for 30 years. He is currently a technical advisor to the Seychelles Ministry of Foreign Relations, and president of the Seychelles Fishing Authority Board. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Seychelles Ports Authority and the High Committee against Piracy.
Q: Coastal developing countries, such as the ACP countries, nowadays express their legitimate aspirations to develop their fishing capacity. What is the experience of the Seychelles in the matter?
It is actually very important for coastal countries to draw more benefits from their fish resources, by developing their fishing capacity, but this must be done in a way that avoids developing overcapacity.
We must also realise that, particularly in the case of tuna fishing, the development of a powerful local industrial fishing sector is very expensive. A tuna seiner represents considerable capital; even a longliner is a big investment, hardly affordable for our citizens.
We have therefore taken several initiatives in the Seychelles. First of all, we have allowed foreign vessels to buy licences to fish in the Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – this is particularly the case for European fleets that are active through fisheries agreements.
We have also allowed the registration of tuna vessels under the Seychelles flag – we now have a fleet of 7 seiners and 30 longliners flagged in this country. We apply the same monitoring and control standards to all vessels’ activities, whether they are domestic or foreign flagged.
Furthermore, we have funded the development of a semi-industrial longliner fleet to fish tuna and swordfish, with 100% Seychellois shipowners and crews.
Q: In your view, what guides the choice of a European shipowner between purchasing a tuna fishing licence under an EU flag, particularly for fishing under a fisheries agreement, or reflagging?
Fishing under a fisheries agreement brings a degree of guarantee for shipowners, but only for a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, and even if it is not written anywhere, reflagging locally offers the shipowner a better guarantee to perpetuate its access to resources, and thus its activity.
As regards licences, a shipowner pays more when his vessel is under the Seychellois flag than when fishing under an agreement. But we must also consider the financial intervention of European public authorities in the context of agreements, such as the sectoral support, which is also a benefit for the coastal country.
Overall, for coastal states, the advantages of both scenarios are more or less similar, although sometimes it is considered that a reflagged vessel is better integrated into the national economy: the vessel unloads its catch locally, makes the necessary repairs in the local port, etc.
For these reasons, we want to continue to develop our fishing capacity, including through very controlled reflagging of vessels that will fit better into the national economy.
Q: How do you evaluate other elements of the fisheries agreements with the European Union, such as the sectoral support?
We use the sectoral support to help all fisheries activities taking place in Seychelles’ waters.
Recently, a 120m long wharf was built thanks to this support, which allowed an improvement of services for the seiners that can now safely unload their nets.
This sectoral support was also used in the construction of infrastructure for small-scale fisheries, as populations rely heavily on this sector for the supply of fresh fish.
Other aspects are also important, such as the introduction of a social clause in the European fishing agreements. This has forced us to reflect on the training we must give to our crew members so that they have all the certifications required by vessels, and can thus benefit from a better status.
There was also significant progress regarding monitoring and control, particularly with the introduction of an electronic system for the registration of catch data. This provides us with quicker access, which, ultimately, gives us more confidence in the quality of this catch data.
Transparency is also an important element. At the Seychelles level – similar to what is done for the agreement with the EU – we will publicise all the fishing agreements that we have signed with foreign countries, as recommended by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). This will certainly provide better information for all, and facilitate harmonisation of access conditions in the region.
I should also mention other EU initiatives in this regard, such as the financing of the Smartfish programme, which does excellent work, including helping us to harmonise access conditions to the EEZs of various countries in the region.
Q: An element of fishing agreements with the EU, on which partner countries often insist, is the inclusion of an obligation for landing catches locally. What is your opinion?
It is an important element, but it is difficult in practice to require private operators to land at a certain location; a tuna vessel will come to the port if the port is well equipped, if port services are competitive, if cold rooms and canneries are complying with high standards, etc.
In the Seychelles, for example, although many seiners land in Victoria, there are still too few longliners doing so because we do not have the necessary infrastructure, particularly cold rooms at −60° Celsius, in which to keep the fish at optimal freshness. Investments are needed.
Q: So, needs are important, but despite this, most ACP countries do not prioritise fisheries in terms of aid, in the EDF programmes for example. How do you explain this?
The fisheries sector does not carry much political weight because its importance is not visible enough. For example, when talking about the Seychelles’ economic statistics, one speaks mainly of tourism, although fisheries have an equivalent economic weight!
We must improve information and data collection not only on fisheries, but also on its ‘side effects’. For instance, in the Seychelles, 60% of the containers on cargo ships leaving the commercial port transport canned tuna produced in the Seychelles for export. Tuna is literally the backbone of cargo traffic, but this is not sufficiently well known or visible. If it were, the authorities in charge of fisheries could better convince their colleagues to give more attention to fisheries in development assistance programmes.
Q: Tuna trade is definitely an engine of economic development. What is your point of view about the obstacle that rules of origin may constitute?
We have a lot of tuna of origin landed in the Seychelles, in Victoria harbour. So, it’s not so much the rules of origin as such that pose difficulties, but rather the increasing demands of importers for certain specific products such as pole-and-line caught tuna, which we would have to import from the Maldives, Ghana or elsewhere.
Of course, we could have a waiver, but the volumes are too limited. On the other hand, it is not so easy to use the possibilities of cumulation of origin with the other ACP countries, as the necessary administrative structures to manage all this have to be in place. These are new challenges!