The Sunday Leader

Seychelles And The Sri Lankan Connection

  • How Nuwan Putha, Muthu Kumari and other vessels are straining the good relations between Sri Lanka and the stunningly beautiful fisherman’s paradise

By Ashanthi Warunasuriya in Seychelles

Fishing and tourism are the two most important industries for the economy of Seychelles

Seychelles is a small archipelago situated in the far west corner of the Indian Ocean, closer to the continent of Africa.

Tourism and fishing are the two most important industries for the economy of Seychelles. In 2009, tourism was surpassed by industrial fishing as the highest foreign exchange earner. Licensing fees paid by foreign companies that trawl in Seychelles’ territorial water, are also growing.

Seychelles is a Small Island Development State (SIDS) and does not have land resources. It is also vulnerable to climate changes. It depends on tourism and fishing, both of which need to be protected. Because Seychelles has to import about 90 per cent of what it consumes, it has a trade deficit and foreign currency deficit.
Fisheries come under the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Transport. The Seychelles Fishing Authority is the executive body that is responsible for fisheries. The Fishing Boat Owner’s Association (FBOA) is the other important stakeholder in fisheries.
The Seychelles Fishing Authority was created in 1984 to develop the fishing industry to its fullest potential as well as preserve the resource base for sustainable development. Their aim is to promote sustainable fisheries with the optimisation of the benefits from the fishing sector for today and the future.
The SFA promotes, organises and develops the fishing industries and fishing resources. It also helps formulate national policy pertaining to the fishing industries and resources as well as the implementation of that policy.
The SFA conducts seminars, meetings and negotiations at the national and international level with regard to the establishment or operation of fishing industries, fisheries or fishing for the government of Seychelles. It also identifies the manpower training required by the country for the fishing industry. Their objectives are:

• Management and conservation of marine resources
• Generation of employment
• Maximum revenue generation
• Integrated economy for Seychelles
• Guarantee of food supply
• Policies for safety at sea

The SAF continues making policies and planning, doing fisheries research and management, extending and developing more fisheries, monitoring the safety and sustainable production of the fisheries and facilitating training of employees. Another important policy is to maintain Port Victoria on Mahe Island as the major tuna landing and transshipment port in the West Indian Ocean.
Fisheries were 7.7 per cent of the Seychelles GDP in 2008 which brought in 97 per cent of the export earnings. The tuna fishery that is exploited by European vessels mainly brought 261,000 tonnes in 2009. The fishing sector employs 17 per cent of the total employed population. It has a main role for food security, foreign exchange earnings and income generation.There are three main components of the fishing sector in Seychelles:

• Artisanal fisheries that target fish on the sea floor and semi-pelagic species with small, motorised boats
• Semi-industrial fisheries that are locally-owned, small long-liners that target pelagic species mainly swordfish and tuna
• Industrial fisheries that mainly target tuna are large long-liners and purse seiners that are operated by foreign-owned companies. Purse seining is a type of dragnet that closes at the bottom like purse-strings so the fish cannot escape.
Marine culture is a specialised branch that cultivates marine organisms in the open ocean for food or other objectives. The SFA has two marine culture projects just outside Mahe.

There is also a small trap fishery that accounts for 15 per cent of the total fish landings. This targets fish near reef and shallow banks and is seasonal when bad weather forces the fishermen to operate inshore. Other small fisheries are lobster and sea cucumber. This is done by divers and is very limited.

There is a shared quota system for sea-cucumber for the four major species.
There are two fish processing plants that produce for export as well as for the local market. There is a large canning factory that processes about 350 tons of tuna every day. This is mostly for the export market.
There are certain breeds of fish that are endemic to Seychelles. And due to the abundance of harvest many fishing boats from other countries come to Seychelles to reap its benefits. Sometimes certain fishermen even attempt to sell their boats by coming in to the country. Such incidents have already been reported.
At present there are around 1000-1500 personnel serving in the country’s fisheries sector. There are around 25 Sri Lankans including lawyers, teachers, doctors and professors who have already obtained Seychelles citizenship. Even the Chief Justice of Seychelles is a Sri Lankan. In such a scenario, the illegal activities that are taking place in Seychelles with the involvement of some Sri Lankans is bringing disrepute to Sri Lanka and has hence become an issue that requires the immediate attention of authorities. If not, the hard won friendship and cordial relationship between these two island nations may soon be in tatters.

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Seychelles was established in 2014. According to published reports the boat ‘Muthu Kumari’ wastaken into custody by Seychelles authorities while in its territorial waters in May 2015. The coast guard hadreported this matter to the Sri Lankan High Commission but since a High Commissioner had not been appointed for Seychelles at that time, the attaché S.L.M. Hilmi had been tasked with dealing with this issue. After negotiations Hilmi had taken steps to treat the fishermen well and make arrangements for their departure to Sri Lanka.

Once a vessel is captured inside territorial waters there is no legal authority to bring the ship to port. Hence all the investigations are done by keeping the vessel at sea. Sharing his experience, Mr. Hilmi said, “When the coast guard informed us about the capture we went there to talk to the fishermen. There were five members in the group and we had to keep them at sea until the legal requirements were fulfilled. As their boat engine had also been jammed we had to spend Seychelles rupees (SCR) 2,000 to tow the boat to port. After the boat owner was informed, he came to Seychelles with a Sri Lankan technician and we provided him with what was necessary tofix the boat. After the investigations by local authorities were concluded they were allowed to go free. We informed the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry about this matter.”
Normally a fishing trawler has a speed of 5 or 6 knots. Hence it had taken 18 days for the boat to reach Sri Lanka.
Recently another boat named ‘Tissa’ had entered Seychelles waters illegally. It too had been sent back after investigations. Many of these boats hail from Beruwala area. Lack of preparation places the lives of many Sri Lankan fishermen in danger. Before a sea voyage an agreement is made about how to manage emergencies. This however usually involvesthe saving of the boat only. Stories abound about fishermen facing trouble at sea. Recently a crew of 8 fishermen had been stranded at sea. When help arrived all but one fisherman had perished.

On May 5, 2015 Seychelles newspaper Todayreported the story of ‘NuwanPutha,’ a boat carrying five people that had been arrested in the territorial waters of Seychelles.  Today reported that no action had been taken against the illegal fishing vessel. The newspaper spoke to Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Wallace Losgrow who said, “I think more can be done although we are already doing a number of things. It’s a huge ocean and the coast guard and Fishing Authority are doing their bit. A new fisheries act that outlaws illegal fishing has been introduced. We cannot let these incidents disrupt our good relations,”.

According to TikiriHerathGunathilake, Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Seychelles, in the early days there had been several reported incidents. Although the authorities are lenient in first and second instances there is no quarter given in the next instance.

“It is important for our fishermen to prepare well before entering other territorial seas. When someone is caught for violating international law the Sri Lankan High Commission is not always able to fulfill their needs. As many fishermen do not maintain record books it poses problems when carrying out rescue work. These are basic duties of the captain. When caught, the local authorities first check for any local fish in the catch. And if found it may result in fines and jail terms. We cannot let these incidents disrupt the cordial relationship we have with Seychelles. There are many repeat offenders. Hence we cannot defend them all the time,” said the ambassador.


Seychelles fishing area overview

The plateau is richly structured and the depth changes often abruptly but it is nowhere deeper than 75m. In many places one finds reefs and elevations some only a few meters high, others reaching to the sea`s surface or beyond. These countless structures are not only hotspots for bottom fish and Trevallies but also magnets for schools of young fish, which attract the pelagic predators to the point of Sailfish and Black Marlin.

On top the Drop Off offers fantastic fishing opportunities as this is where the big Amberjacks and Dogtooth Tuna live. Trolling along that edge to the abyss stretching for hundreds of kilometres matches the best you can find worldwide in terms of strike frequency and variety of species caught. And beyond, above the deep blue water, one enters the feeding grounds of Blue and Striped Marlin and the large Yellowfin Tuna.
Anyone preferring lighter tackle does not need to venture that far out. For spin-and fly fishermen Seychelles has the coastlines of its islands, off the shore reefs and the sometimes extensive shallow areas in between to offer. Perfect places to pursue is either wading or from a small boat next to many other species the coveted Bonefish and Milkfish.
This multitude of very different environments offers ideal conditions for an amazing variety of fish – thus providing both the versatile as well as the specialised angler with a veritable paradise.
On top the plateau and vast areas beyond cannot be fished industrially for technical and legal reasons which provide another major advantage to Seychelles´ fish stocks. To express it with the words of an old local fisherman: ‘Our plateau is the true treasure of Seychelles.´
Last but not least: the question which is recommendable as a starting point for fishing trips, Mahe or Praslin-La Digue, frequently arises. Generally both offer very similar potential. The following parameters can be considered:
Mahe offers a far larger variety of boats, especially regarding the large and luxurious vessels.


Seychelles Fishing

Many of the Seychelles islands accommodate resorts of highest standards and offer first class fishing. Most renowned among anglers is probably Alphonse Island that in recent years became the undisputed dream destination for any fly fisherman. Also others like Desroches, d´Arroz and the two northern atolls mentioned before offer some of the best fishing one can find.
The destination of most visitors are the `inner islands´ which impress with their mountains covered with lush vegetation and the famous granite rocks making them so distinctive and unique.
The `inner islands´ are basically divided into the `Mahe group´ and the `Praslin- La Digue group´. Both are more or less centrally located on a large submarine plateau of about 60m in average depth that on its edges drops sharply a couple of thousand meters to the ocean floor. This is very well visible on Google Earth:

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