The fisheries of Seychelles

The fisheries of Seychelles


Seychelles’ commercial fishing industry has seen dramatic development since 1986 and is poised to challenge tourism as the nation’s largest revenue earner by the end of the century. Seychelles is at the center of the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries. Fishing Port, in the eastern section of the capital city, Victoria, is the most important tuna landing and transshipment port in the southwestern Indian Ocean. Foreign fleets from France, Spain, the U.S.S.R., Mauritania, and other countries fish for tuna in Seychelles’ bountiful waters. The domestic artisanal fleet fills the domestic demand for fish supplies, and provides some export earnings.

But, while Seychelles earns $7 million in licensing fees and transshipment charges, it earns only $2 million from artisanal fishery exports. This amount could be greatly increased with the introduction of a national tuna purse seiner fleet. However, the government finds it difficult to attract young people to the fishing profession despite good income and various incentive programs. The government of the Seychelles is aggressively trying to develop the fisheries sector, including port facilities, infrastructure, processing facilities, and a national commercial tuna fleet. Much of Seychelles fishery development is financed by bilateral and multilateral foreign aid.

The Seychelles, a group of 90 tiny islands scattered over a vast area of the Western Indian Ocean gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1976. The country was basically a one-industry nation until French fishery research vessels started surveying nearby ocean waters in 1980. Tourism was, and remains the most important industry in this beautiful tropical island country, but fishing, especially the tuna fishery, is challenging tourism as the major foreign exchange earner. Victoria, the capital located on Mahe Island, has become a strategic base for tuna fisheries.

The Seychelles islanders are probably the world’s greatest consumers of fish per capita at 90 kilos per person each year. The fishing industry directly employs over 1,400 people, 85 percent of them full-time. However, the fisheries sector is controlled by the government, primarily through the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) and the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB). The government’s basic objectives for the fishing industry are to satisfy domestic fisheries consumption, increase fishery exports, obtain additional revenue from foreign fleets operating in Seychelles waters through licensing fees and port services, and develop its own commercial fishing capabilities.

Fishing Grounds

An oasis in the vast Western Indian Ocean, the Republic of the Seychelles lies astride an important tuna migration route. In 1978, the Seychelles declared a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1 million square kilometers, encompassing the world’s richest tuna grounds, to protect its resources from far-ranging deep-sea fishing fleets from Japan, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and the Soviet Union. The Seychelles’ 200-mile EEZ extension truncated part of Mauritius’ traditional fishing grounds, but the two countries have worked together to coordinate their fishing regulations. The Government of Seychelles is trying to establish a deep-sea fishing industry based in Fishing Port, a section of the capital, Victoria, and needed to establish authority over its grounds. The only waystation within hundreds of miles, the Seychelles has become an important site for provisions, repairs of vessels, and transshipment of fishery products landed by foreign tuna fleets.

Early in the 1980’s, tuna stocks were discovered off the Seychelles. The French tuna industry sent a purse-seiner, the Ile de sein, on a 3-month survey, with encouraging results. A 7-month French expedition, begun in December 1981, also had positive findings. At the end of 1982, four vessels previously based at Abidjan, Ivory Coast, started commercial fishing on a trial basis. By the end of 1984, there were 48 French and Spanish tuna vessels fishing in Seychelles waters. Within two years the tuna industry had turned Seychelles’ EEZ into a fisheries bonanza, coming in a close second to tourism as a foreign exchange earner.

The main tuna fishing grounds have been east of the Seychelles. However, in 1986 new fishing grounds were discovered. It seems that the tuna move clockwise around the archipelago, converging on Mahe, the largest island. New grounds to the northwest of the islands show promise, depending on the type of fishing practiced. Grounds to the north also abound in tuna at certain times of the year.

The Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) decreed that foreign fishing will not be permitted closer than 60 miles from the Seychelles’ coast, the approximate extent of the shallow continental shelf. This area is reserved for Seychelles fishermen, who rarely fish in deep waters beyond 60 miles.

Government Administration

The Ministry of National Development, which had oversight and operational responsibility for the fishing industry and the various components which comprise the sector, was abolished in June 1989. In the reorganization, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing was created. Although it is not yet clear how Seychelles’ fishing activities will be administered in the future, the two dominant organizations will continue to be the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB). Several other government units are peripherally involved: The Department of Defense assists the SFA in surveillance and control of the EEZ, the Seychelles Development Bank provides the loans for private fishermen, and other government parastatal companies provide handling and maintenance service for the fishing vessels.

The Seychelles Fishing Authority was incorporated in August 1984 by the Seychelles Fishing Authority Establishment Act. The Authority was formed because of the need to develop the fishing industry to its fullest potential. It is a parastatal organization with autonomous legal and financial status, supervised by a Board of Directors appointed by the President. The SFA has responsibility for policy implementation and is charged with assessment and management of fishery resources, regulating all fishing activity, coordination and support of fishing cooperatives and owner-operators, management of ports, development of gear technology, coordination of manpower training, undertaking research, assisting in negotiations with foreign fishing fleets, and coordinating with other agencies with related activities in the fishing area. The SFA is divided into two divisions: Resources and Administration. The SFA is unusual in having multiple functions as a management, planning, development, scientific, and training organization.

The Seychelles Marketing Board controls the local artisanal catch. It buys the catch from fishermen, distributes locally-with the hotels taking the best-and has a monopoly on the export of fresh and frozen fish, most of which goes to Reunion and the EC countries.

Ports and Infrastructure

Since 1982-83 considerable government effort has gone into infrastructure development, which complements and supports the expansion of commercial fishing. Called the East Coast Project, a recently completed large landfill area on Mahe’s east coast adjacent to Victoria includes a new fishing port and a range of other marine support facilities, such as cold storage and freezing plants, a tuna cannery, tuna and schooner quays and bunkering areas, a cargo/passenger terminal, and a new processing facility.

Fishing Port is divided into an international and a domestic zone. In the international zone, expanded berthing areas have been completed and bids have been let to increase bunkering capacity. Berth occupancy in 1988 was 93 percent of capacity on average. A U.S. tuna net repair firm, CASAMAR, has started operations in the international zone. In the domestic zone, mechanical workshops, an ice-making plant, and a polystyrene box-making plant are in place or near completion. A new fuel pump for local fishermen began operation in April 1989, financed by the French Government. The U. S. Economic Support Fund (ESF) and the African Development Bank financed the construction of the new SFA headquarters, completed in December 1988. Major work projects in the domestic zone in 1989 include new quays, stores, a service building, ramp, and seawall repair.


Skipjack and yellowfin are the two major species fished in Seychelles’ EEZ. Although free-swimming schools consist of as much as 90 percent yellowfin tuna, the overall average catch for the area is fairly evenly divided between the two species, with skipjack tuna representing 53 percent of the 1988 catch and yellowfin 47 percent. About 40 percent of the yellowfin tuna caught Indian Ocean come from the Seychelles’ EEZ. Nearly all of the tuna caught in the Seychelles’ EEZ is taken by foreign vessels. The Seychelles government plans to acquire its own fleet of tuna purse seiners, and launch a domestic commercial tuna fishery. The first of the new purse seiners was expected to be operational in early 1990.

The cumulative tuna catch inside the Seychelles’ EEZ was 220,960 metric tons (t) in 1988, a 36 percent increase over the 1987 catch. The 1988 catch had an estimated world market value of more than US$350 million. Yellowfin tuna represented 47 percent of the total catch, an increase from 38 percent in 1987, while skipjack declined from 62 percent in 1987 to 53 percent in 1988. Most (about 200,000 t) of the tuna catch was transshipped in Victoria, making it the most important tuna landing and transshipment port in the Southwest Indian Ocean.

Purse seine landings in the Western Indian Ocean for the first quarter of 1989 were 28 percent higher than those for the same period in 1988, increasing to 60,000 t landed during January to March 1989, compared to 44,000 t in the first quarter of 1988. The catch proportion of skipjack was also unusual for this time of year, when yellowfin is normally the predominant species. The skipjack catch rose 175 percent over the first quarter of 1988. The fishery also moved from its traditional location east of the Seychelles’ EEZ to the northwest. As of 30 June 1989, cumulative landings totaled 100,000 t. Average catch rates also reached a record high for the first quarter of 1989, of 26 t per day compared with 18 t for the same period in 1988. Purse seiner catch rates reached an all-time high for this fishery of 37 t per day in March, up from 21 t per day in January.

A tuna cannery, a Seychelles-French joint venture, was opened in 1987 in Fishing Port, Victoria. The joint venture partners are the government of Seychelles (70 percent owners) and two French companies (30 percent): Pecheurs de France and Armement Cooperatif Finisterien (A.C.F.), which own over 40 seiners licensed to fish in Seychelles’ waters. The plant is currently operating at 50 percent capacity and in 1988 generated $10 million in earnings. In the last quarter of 1987, the cannery earned more export revenue than all the rest of the industrial sector. During September-December 1987 the cannery exported tuna worth $3 million, while other exports-mainly other frozen fish, copra, and cinnamon-earned only $2 million for the entire year of 1987. Negotiations are taking place to secure access for tuna exports to the U. S. market.

Canned tuna production is expected to reach 23 million cans in 1989, with an export value of about $12.5 million. Actual net return is modest because the raw materials must be imported, including the fish, which is purchased from the foreign tuna vessels. The high demand for raw tuna imports by the canning plant is a contributing factor to the Seychelles’ unfavorable trade balance. However, the plant provides direct employment for 300 people, and has other beneficial effects, such as the production of animal feed.

Demersal species are fished only on the artisanal level. Surveys have determined that demersal trawling would not be commercially viable in Seychelles waters. However, other species are receiving attention, and several projects are in various stages of planning and implementation. Crabe giraffe, giant clam aquaculture, and shrimp fisheries are being studied and trial harvests conducted. A trial shark skin curing project is also being carried out.

Fish are the only species of marine life currently exploited to any significant degree. Green and Hawksbill turtles, formerly abundant in Seychelles’ waters, have unfortunately been overharvested. Current legislative efforts include limitations or prohibitions on turtle harvesting. Fortunately, the Seychelles does not experience problems with porpoise deaths associated with tuna fishing, which is common in many other areas. Yellowfin tuna do not school under herds of porpoise in that part of the Indian Ocean, so few are caught in purse seine nets.

Types of Fisheries

Foreign Commercial Fleet

As of August 1989, there were 49 purse seiners fishing for tuna under 1-2 year licenses in Seychelles’ EEZ. This group consists of 20 French vessels, 19 Spanish, 4 Soviet, 3 Mauritanian, 1 Panamanian, and 1 Indian vessel. The French fleet is owned by five separate companies, while the Spanish fleet is owned by two syndicates representing four companies. Both fleets are unionized and the length of time a vessel can remain at sea without making port and crew-relief return trips to their home countries is limited under union contracts. Under the terms of the licenses with the Seychelles government, each purse seiner must employ at least two Seychelles citizens as part of its crew; in 1988, some 130 Seychellois were crewmembers on foreign tuna trawlers. The SFA was negotiating in June 1989 with labor and vessel owner representatives for a new contract for Seychelles fishermen. Licensing fees paid by foreign vessels brought in $4.9 million in fees to the Government in 1988.

Purse seiners had an all-time best year of operation in the southwestern Indian Ocean in 1988. The total foreign catch transshipped from purse seiners through Port Victoria in 1988 was 200,000 t compared to 137,000 t in 1987.

The SFA issues licenses to longliners on a monthly basis. There were 167 foreign longliners licensed to fish in 1988 (127 Korean and 40 Japanese), representing 292 license months. This is a 100 percent increase over the number of longliner licenses issued in 1987 and is attributable to agreements signed with a number of new Japanese companies. Longliner transshipments of tuna for 1988, mostly yellowfin, bigeye, marlin, and shark, were 12,103 t, down 14 percent from 1987. Taiwanese longliners were also active in transshipping though Victoria in 1987, but only 5 Taiwanese longliners used Victoria in 1988.

During 1988, all purse seiners and longliners that called at Port Victoria for either transhipment or bunkering were boarded by inspection officers of the SFA Fisheries Management Section. No violations were detected. Additionally, SFA routinely places observers aboard licensed vessels to monitor fishing activities and to gather biological information. SFA officials state that because almost the entire catch is transshipped via Seychelles’ ports on Mahe Island and undergoes inspection in the process, cheating by under-reporting the tuna catch is not a problem.

In 1988, the Seychelles collected $4.9 million in licensing fees, and earned another $1.9 million in transshipment charges. Licensing agreements with the U.S.S.R. with the EC, and with Japanese tuna longlining companies are all subject to renewal in late 1989 and in 1990. In all likelihood, licensing fees will be increased.

Artisanal Sector

Since the islands have been self-sufficient in fishery products for over a century, there is almost no local market for commercial tuna catches. The introduction of the tuna fishery was a welcome export opportunity, but it plays no part in domestic supply. The Seychelles thus does not benefit fully from its tuna resources. The artisanal fleet does not have the technical equipment necessary for commercial tuna fishing.

Before the discovery of tuna stocks, the traditional inshore fishing industry caught over 4,000 t of fish and shellfish per year, sufficient for the country’s 60,000 inhabitants. Handlining on the coral grounds around the Mahe and Amirante island groups accounts for 60 percent of all landings. The other major fishing methods are traps (20 percent) and gillnets (10).

Forty percent of the 1988 artisanal catch consisted of jacks (carangids), 9 percent were jobfish, and 7 percent Indian mackerel. Seven percent of the catch was red snapper, down from 12 percent in 1987. The remaining 37 percent of the artisanal catch was composed of various other species. A total of 575 t, about 15 percent of the artisanal catch was exported frozen or fresh in 1988, with 59 percent of it going to Reunion, 10 percent to France and 15 percent to the United Kingdom. Net export earnings from artisanal fisheries were about $2 million.

Some 400 fishing boats on Mahe, Praslin, and La Digue islands make up the major part of Seychelles’ artisanal fishing fleet. Most of the artisanal fleet are 7-9 m “whalers,” 5-7 m outboards, 9-12 m schooners, and pirogues. Collectively this fleet caught 4,343 t of fish in local waters in 1988, a 10 percent increase over 1987, but still 286 t less than was caught in 1986. “Whalers” accounted for 53 percent of the total artisanal catch, with outboards coming second at 29 percent.

A prototype of a new type of vessel, christened “L’avenir” (the future), built by a private shipyard on Praslin Island, was field-tested in 1988. Two of the new vessels were sold to local fishermen and are having good results. The government plans to acquire its own fleet of tuna purse seiners, the first of which should be operational in early 1990. As a new generation of more cost-efficient, better equipped vessels with improved living facilities is acquired, the government hopes to attract more young people to the fishing industry.

Although the artisanal fishing reportedly has great potential, the catch has not increased over the past 5 years. One limitation is the small capacity of artisanal crafts. Another limitation is the lack of Seychellois fishermen. Despite the comparatively high level of earnings of artisanal fishermen, young people avoid it because of its unattractive image, long hours, always hard and sometimes dangerous work. Seychelles Polytechnic offers an artisanal fishing program of education, but none of the graduates since 1985 have actually been employed as fishermen. Recognizing the rapidly declining number of fishermen and the need to train young new fishermen, a technical team from Canada was brought to the Polytechnic in May 1989 to develop new and expanded courses.

The government is taking many measures to attract and retain artisanal fishermen, among them a loan program to encourage private ownership of artisanal fishing vessels. In 1988, after screening by the Development Bank and the SFA, 43 fishery loans totaling $456,000 were granted. This compares to only 19 loans in 1987. Loan repayment defaults are a serious problem, attributed in part to the poor management skills of fishermen, and in part to indications of relatively low returns on investment. Efforts are also being made to help established fishermen improve their catch volume though the introduction of modern technology such as echo-sounders and electric fishing reels. Courses on financial management and basic navigation have been given. In addition, fishing income has been made entirely tax-free as an incentive. Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the profession remains low. Fishermen complain about unfair prices offered by the Seychelles Marketing Board’s (SMB) Fish Division, and high prices on equipment. Hoping to solve some of the industry’s problems, the artisanal fishermen are supporting a proposal for the formation of a fishermen’s association.

Exports and Earnings

Artisanal fishery exports generated $2 million in 1988. Most of the 575 t, comprising about 15 percent of the artisanal catch, went to Reunion, France, and the UK. The tuna cannery’s exports were worth $3 million in 1988, and were expected to reach $12.5 million in 1989 as it expanded production.

Despite the low level of direct earnings from fishery exports, the fishing industry contributes to revenues in other ways. In 1988, the Seychelles collected $7 million in licensing fees and transshipment charges. Earnings from support services rendered the foreign fleets and profits from the sale of supplies are substantial and will increase as the port facilities expand. The Seychelles’ Central Bank reports that the fishing industry and its related activities have created 500 new jobs over the past 18 months. Thus, in the current situation, the Seychelles earns more (over $7 minion) from acting as a service and transshipment center than it does from its own exports of fishery products ($5 million).

In fact, Seychelles derives no direct earnings from its valuable tuna resources because it does not have its own commercial fishing fleet. The net revenue from the tuna cannery is quite low, because the joint venture company must import the raw tuna from the foreign fishing companies based in Victoria. Yet, the substantial earnings the Seychelles does enjoy from the fisheries sector have led the government to expand into commercial fishing. A new parastatal company was formed in 1988 to operate a Seychellois fleet of purse seiners which will eventually displace an equal number of foreign vessels currently fishing under license in Seychelles’ waters. The first of the 13 vessels constructed in France was to be delivered in 1989. The Canadian technical team brought by the government to the Seychelles Polytechnic to develop a new course to train fishermen in purse seining techniques is part of the commercial fishing development program. The Seychelles hopes through the development of a national commercial fleet to reap benefits from its tuna stocks, as foreign fleets currently do.

In 1985 and 1986, respectively, the Seychelles exported $4.4 and $2.4 million of tuna to the United States. In 1987, only $0.2 million in shrimp and no tuna was exported. In 1988, tuna worth $0.8 million went to the United States, and in the first half of 1989 $0.4 million of salmon. The reasons for these fluctuations in trade are not known, but exports of fishery products may have been redirected to the EC. If the Seychelles is successful in developing its own commercial tuna fishery, exports of tuna to the United States may increase in the future.

International Fishery Relations

Formal fishery agreements have only been concluded with Spain (before its accession to the EC) and the EC. The Seychelles began negotiations with the EC in 1983 for rights to fish within the Seychelles’ EEZ. One of the conditions the Seychenes wanted for such an agreement was the construction of port facilities in Victoria, the capital city. Although this condition was not met, a 3-year agreement was concluded on 18 January 1984, allowing 18 EC tuna freezer vessels to fish off the Seychelles. The EC paid $265,000 per year for tuna catches of up to 6,000 t, along with a fee of $18.50/t of tuna caught. In January 1987, the agreement was renewed for 3 years. It allows a maximum of 40 tuna vessels (22 French and 18 Spanish) to fish in the Seychelles’ 200-mile zone. The EC is paying $6 million for this access, as well as $0.7 million for a scientific research program. EC vessels pay $5,000 per year, and $20/t of tuna caught. A Joint EC-Seychelles Committee meeting took place in November 1988 to discuss the implementation and functioning of the current agreement, which expires in January 1990. Renegotiation will take place in the second half of 1989.

In September 1987, the Soviet Union joined the foreign fleets fishing in Seychenes’ EEZ. The 1987 agreement granted fishing rights to a maximum of four Soviet purse seiners and two longliners. The Soviet vessels were to give 12 percent of their catch to the Seychenes. Each Soviet vessel was to have at least one observer from the SFA. In addition, the Soviet fleet agreed to land and transship their entire catch and obtain all needed supplies and services in Port Victoria. In October 1988, at the First Session of the Joint Seychelles-U.S.S.R. Fisheries Commission, a 2-year agreement between the Soviet state-owned company, Sovrybflot and the Seychelles government was signed, permitting up to six Soviet purse seiners and unspecified number of longliners.

Vessels from Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, and the Ivory Coast are allowed to fish within the Seychelles’ EEZ. Korea and Japan have refused to sign fishery agreements with the Seychelles because their vessels fish in Seychelles’ waters for only a few months each year, as they follow the tuna schools through the Indian Ocean. Japan prefers to have its vessels apply for fishing permits as needed on an individual basis. Japan believes that a more formal agreement would require the payment of unprofitable fees.

Seychelles is a member of various regional commissions organized to monitor and manage tuna stocks and other marine resources and guide national and regional states in commercial tuna fishing. The most important of these is the Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (IOFC) which also includes the Comoros Islands, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Reunion and others as members. However, the Seychelles is likely to follow its own path of development rather than go in step with group efforts.

Foreign Aid

The Seychelles receives substantial aid to develop its fishing industry. The FAO established a multinational assistance project, coordinated by a Norwegian expert. The most important contributions for the construction of new port facilities and infrastructure at Victoria have been provided by the World Bank, the Kuwait Fund, the Arab Development Bank, and the African Development Bank. The Seychelles is also part of the UNDP/FAO South-West Indian Ocean project for the management and development of fisheries. The U. N. International Development Organization (UNIDO) supervised the establishment of a new boatyard on Praslin. Additionally, funds from a wide variety of sources-including the U.S. Economic Support Fund and the African Development Bank-have been used in fisheries-related development. Also, an energized Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (IOFC) will provide another source of financial and technical assistance opportunities in the years ahead.

France and the EC have provided considerable financial assistance to the development of Seychelles’ fishing industry, and both are expected to continue being heavily involved. A French organization, Orstrom, is the principal consultant for fisheries research for the SFA. Orstrom recently completed studies on yellowfin reproduction and tuna stock assessments. France contributed four pole-and-line vessels for the nucleus of a Seychellois tuna fleet, and part of the infrastructures for the Fish Marketing Board.

A Canadian organization, the International Center for Ocean Development (ICOD) has assisted the Seychelles and other countries in the region on several projects, including EEZ surveillance and training of fishery technicians. The UK provided a large tuna freezing plant in Victoria, and the start of an enforcement program by supplying a deep-sea patrol boat and a surveillance aircraft. Japan has participated in projects involving a tuna survey and the development of artisanal fishing. Japan and Korea sent delegations to the Seychelles to discuss the construction of a quick-freezing storage plant, but the outcome of these discussions is not known. Norway provided funds and expertise in the Victoria port construction project.


There is no doubt that fishing will continue to be a major industry in Seychelles, and may soon rival tourism as the leading sector of the economy. This would be a good use of Seychelles’ two most important assets: Its people and its ocean territory. Whether a Seychellois national commercial fishery can be productive and profitable is another matter. Given the enormous distances required to export processed fish-900 miles to Mombasa, 980 to Mauritius, 1,750 to Bombay, and 1,400 to Aden-fishing operations in Seychelles would have to remain at the leading edge of technology to be competitive.

That may be difficult given the lack of a commercial fishing tradition. Yet, Seychelles’ commercial fishing endeavors have been remarkably successful to date and there are no reasons why the momentum win not be maintained. If the actual gains in terms of net earnings are still small, future development of the sector looks very promising. (Source: IFR-89/ 96, prepared by Elaine Samson Yannotti, Foreign Affairs Specialist, Foreign Fisheries Analysis Branch (F/IA23), NMFS, NOAA, 1335 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

COPYRIGHT 1990 U.S. Department of Commerce

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