Established in 1984, the SFA works to develop the Seychelles’ potential as a major player in fisheries, whilst maintaining the nation’s trademark sustainability approach. Ronny Renaud, a former CEO of Seychelles’ National Parks Authority, took up his current post last year after training to become the first marine protected area professional in the country. Here he discusses ways to develop the industry in a responsible manner and the potential impact of Chinese investment
After a distinguished career, you were appointed CEO of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) in May 2017. What is your overall vision for the Seychellois fishing industry going into the future?
When the current board came in a year ago, we decided we wanted to re-establish the prestige of the SFA and make it shine once more as an authority that is respected and looked up to for its leadership on sustainable fisheries management in the western Indian Ocean. We have embarked on a strategic plan. Our new vision is about excellence in leading sustainable fishery management and development. We have also engaged the staff to aspire for excellence.
What are the authority’s chief tasks as it seeks to develop the fishing industry to its fullest potential while also promoting sustainability?
Since its establishment, the SFA has developed many aspects of fisheries. The first step was to develop the artisanal industry by encouraging new techniques and teaching workers. Our work has now grown to the point that we are encouraging investment in industrial fisheries, and we are even pushing forward towards developing aquaculture. Through the SFA, the government provides an enabling environment for fisheries to grow, including, for example, helping to obtain loans from the fisheries development fund. This can be a small fisherman attaining finance to get a boat, or for those who want to invest in larger-scale fishing industries. Another part is managing the subsidies on tax-free fuel. Then there is the infrastructure of creating places for fishermen to sell their catch, and we also produce ice and allow access to fishermen at a reduced rate. Essentially, we help them to become competitive and able to export their products. We are also providing land for business associated with storing and processing the catch. For example, at Providence industrial estate, the fishing port is now under expansion. The government has allocated land to us and we sublease to businesses so they can buy the catch from fishermen for wet or dry production, for local market or for export.
Another part of our vision of excellence is to reduce waste in what we catch, improving efficiency and ensuring the cold chain from harvest to consumption. The more you waste, the more you are forced to catch.
Fisheries constituted 7.7 percent of the Seychelles’ GDP in 2008 and brought in 97 percent of export earnings. How have those numbers evolved in recent years? According to a 2016 central bank report, fisheries represented three percent of GDP. But that was only catch and sales, excluding processing, so, for example, Indian Ocean Tuna’s canning activities were considered industry. Fishing is still responsible for more than 90 percent of exports. According to a study we carried out last year, a drop in fishing and fewer vessels coming into Port Victoria would see the general cost of living rise as fewer goods would be imported by ship. We rely a lot on fishing vessels coming here to refuel and take on stocks, and without this, we would not be able to capitalise on these economies of scale. We want Port Victoria to be the port of choice for bunkering, and we still have the number one canning factory in the region.
What give Seychelles fish and seafood a competitive edge in the international market?
The sustainability label. The technology we use allows for a natural life cycle for marine life. Our sustainability label attracts people. When we talk about Seychelles, it’s a place where the environment is as pure as you can get. People associate Seychelles with a pristine environment so the fish are growing in the cleanest possible water. We are viewing a long-term strategic approach, rather than exploiting our resources greedily. Going back to our mission statement of seeking excellence, we as an authority are engaging in the optimal use of fishing resources through sustainable management and an ecosystem approach. We need to understand the ecosystem and not just treat fish as numbers. And we do all of this because we want sustainability for future generations to enjoy the same fish that we were eating 200 years ago. The pelagic species, mainly tuna, that we catch is 95 percent-plus destined for export. But also, here on the Mahé plateau, artisanal fishermen continue to fish for emperor, red snapper, groupers, mackerel and other fish – this is almost all for local consumption.
What investment opportunities for Chinese investors currently exist in the Seychelles fishing industry? And what are the win-win benefits of said investments, for both the Seychelles and foreign companies?
The fishing quotas are currently somewhat saturated, but onshore there are plenty of opportunities, starting with necessary improvements to the cold chain infrastructure. We know that there will be more demand for cold storage for the foreign industry and local fishermen, both for exporting and processing locally. There are also opportunities connected with the expansion of the fishing port as we attract more fishing vessels into Seychelles for them to either transship or for their catch to be landed and processed. There is new development in an area called Zone 21, which is reclaimed land and where onshore facilities are being built up, including the cold storage centre. There is potential to build a dry dock or other facilities for minor repairs to vessels. Port Victoria has EU financing to expand its cargo and commercial activities. There is also demand for industrial long-line fishing vessels, but the facilities are missing, so we need more berthing space and an extension to the jetty. This is an area where investment is required.
Aquaculture and mariculture are other areas where we see new investment coming in over the next few years. Expanding these sectors is key to improving our food security situation because there is a lot of pressure on certain species in the wild. We are looking into the farming of sea cucumber, for example, to reduce pressure on harvesting from the wild in the reefs. Sea urchins, also, which are also a delicacy in Asia. But we only want to develop local species, from our environment. We would like to collaborate with China to build capacity, work together on anti-piracy activities and on unregulated fishing, as well as sorting out any issues related to the welfare of fishermen at sea to reduce incidents. We would like Chinese investors to come and help us achieve the excellence we want to achieve through their investments, their knowledge of fishing, and technical and infrastructural capacity building.
What legacy do you want to leave behind at the SFA?
The most important thing for us is to create the label of excellence in sustainable fishery management. In Seychelles, the development of fisheries has always spearheaded economic development in general, so any improvement in this sector will also have a knock-on effect on all of the others. Executing our plans to eventually benefit all other sectors of society is what we would like to see.