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A transparent, sustainable and equitable agreement with the EU will have repercussions for Asian fishing fleets active in Mauritian waters

10 March 2013

An interview with Vassen Kauppaymuthoo

Vassen Kauppaymuthoo is an oceanographer and environmental engineer in Mauritius. He is also the founder and president of Kalipso, the Mauritian civil society platform.

Q: After three years without an agreement – from 2008 to 2010 – Mauritius has just signed a new Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) and Protocol with the European Commission. Local fishers and civil society have mobilised against this agreement. Why?

You know, Mauritians who wish to eat tuna are finding it more and more expensive. If you go to a fisherman, he will sell you a kilo of tuna for Rs70 (€2). If you go to a supermarket, you will pay up to Rs350 (€10) a kilo. Many of my fellow countrymen consider tuna the essential protein element of the Mauritian diet. Agreements that aim to give foreign fleets access to our tuna are therefore a sensitive issue for everyone – fishers and civil society alike.

As far as the agreement with the EU is concerned, fishers’ unions and civil society interests have marched through the streets of Port Louis and organised demonstrations to demand greater transparency in the negotiation process. The ex ante evaluation that preceded the negotiations was published, it is true, and this is a very positive development. But the text of the Protocol itself, signed in February 2012, wasn't published until September 2012, and then only on the EU website. This wasn't enough to reassure us that the negotiation process was genuinely transparent, to us the only guarantee that the full range of interests – fishers, processors, consumers, civil society – was properly taken into account.

At the end of 2012, I had the chance to visit Brussels to put our case to the EC, to European NGOs and to Mr Sanchez Presedo, the European Parliament rapporteur for the agreement. In his report, the latter accorded considerable importance to these issues of transparency, requesting in particular that the Parliament be provided with the minutes of the Joint Committee meetings, the multi-annual sector programme, and the annual evaluations. He also emphasised that the EU's international engagement, as a signatory to the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, demands complete transparency in relation to partnership agreements.

Q: What is the current state of play?

Real progress has been made. The Mauritian authorities seem to have recognised the importance of improving stakeholder participation in the fisheries sector. Following my return from Brussels, the Ministry of Fisheries organised a number of meetings with representatives of the fishers’ unions and civil society interests. A proposal was put forward to establish a Mauritian 'consultative committee on fisheries and maritime issues'. Although its status is currently provisional, the committee will become permanent and will bring together all stakeholders. I am currently working on the terms of reference for this body, which will facilitate dialogue between the [fisheries] sector, civil society interests and the government.

In my view, these terms of reference must encompass several key elements. Firstly the committee must remain open to all, and particularly to fishers: any fisher who encounters a problem should have the opportunity to bring his case before the committee. Its meetings should be open to the public, with complete transparency over the documents discussed and any eventual recommendations.

The committee must also have the power to initiate action in certain areas – for example, fishers and civil society are all keen to see a detailed scientific study examining the health of our fish stocks and the size of our catches. The committee could undertake a study of this kind, to the benefit of all stakeholders.

Q: What steps can this committee take to ensure the effective monitoring of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement?

We want to be consulted on matters other than our partnership with the EU. The Mauritian fishing area is frequented by foreign vessels which operate according to official agreements, such as those with the EU, the Seychelles or Japan, and others which are individually licensed. As theirs is the largest fleet operating within our EEZ, the Taiwanese hold the majority of these trawling licences.

Our wish is that all foreign vessels active in our EEZ should meet the same sustainability criteria, and I believe the consultative committee will have to develop an approach which considers the operations of all fleets, not just those of the EU.

The consultative committee will also have to advise on the new Mauritian fisheries law about to be discussed. There are a number of problems we need to tackle as a matter of urgency. Lagoon stocks are exhausted. Fishers report smaller and smaller catches, which they sell at ridiculously low prices – scarcely a few rupees per kilo. We must give these fishers greater hope for the future!

Furthermore, we must examine how we put the sector on a more formal footing. Mauritius today has no system of commercial fishing licences, in fact no fishing licences at all – anyone can fish. Implementing a sustainable fishing policy is difficult in these circumstances.

Recreational fishing and land-based, value-added processing also create jobs in the fisheries sector. Recent years have seen a proactive policy of developing such processing activities through the Seafood Hub, facilitating investment and developing logistical support. But now we must think about securing a long-term future for these land-based activities, and this requires the implementation of a sustainable fishery capable of ensuring long-term supply without imperilling stocks.

Q: And as far as monitoring the Partnership Agreement with the EU is concerned?

As for monitoring the Fisheries Partnership Agreement, I hope that the consultative committee will be part of the first Joint Committee, whose job will be to determine how the agreement should be implemented. The consultative committee should also be included in the group which examines how the financial compensation fund is used.

With respect to the monitoring process, we would wish to revise at least one clause in the new agreement, i.e. the confidentiality clause which stipulates that any information concerning the activity of European fishing fleets is confidential.

We have examined the different partnership agreements between other ACP countries and the EU, and our agreement, along with the EU-Mozambique accord, is the only one drawn up in such a restrictive manner. We are perfectly aware that certain information may be commercially sensitive, but it is not inconceivable that our consultative committee could find itself monitoring the agreement without any data on the operation of European fleets.

It goes without saying that for this exercise to be a constructive one, we must have access to all relevant information: for example, licensed vessels list, catches made, annual plans, sectoral expenditure reports etc.

Q: Are there any other matters worthy of consideration in implementing the FPA?

One key concern will be to revise the rules governing the taking of sharks by the European fleet in line with the proposals made within the EU-Madagascar agreement.

Sharks have practically disappeared from our waters, overfished to feed Asian demand for shark's fins. The EU tuna fleet takes significant ancillary catches of sharks, which are neither correctly reported nor indeed paid for.

Putting measures in place to ensure the partnership agreement implements effectively the recommendations of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) will therefore be vital. The EU-Madagascar agreement has recently done so, providing for trawlers to carry observers who will gather statistics for transmission to the IOTC's Scientific Committee. Madagascar has now banned fishing for endangered species of shark, and catches of other species of shark associated with tuna fishing are heavily restricted. Nothing like this exists in the EU-Mauritius protocol, nor, to my knowledge, in relation to the Taiwanese trawler fleet. This is certainly something the consultative committee will be able to target. 


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