The Republic of Seychelles, a Member State of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has attained the status of being the first country in the world to submit its report to Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI).
Seychelles has been collaborating with the (FiTI) since 2015, leading regional efforts to promote sustainable management of fisheries. Transparency has become a cornerstone of Seychelles’ endeavours to transit towards a sustainable ocean economy; and it is a core principle of the country’s ‘Blue Economy: Strategic Policy Framework and Roadmap (2018-2030)’.
The country is a major player in the global tuna industry, with Port Victoria one of the busiest industrial fishing ports in the Western Indian Ocean. FiTI is a global multi-stakeholder partnership that defines for the first time the information that national authorities must publish on the fisheries sector. By making fisheries management more transparent and inclusive, FiTI promotes informed public debates on fisheries policies and supports the long-term contribution of the sector to national economies and the well-being of citizens and businesses that depend on a healthy marine environment.
What Seychelles has achieved is a remarkable feat, and what makes this even more gratifying is that this was achieved amidst challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seychelles has been exemplary and SADC Secretariat wishes to encourage other Member States to learn from this. The Secretariat and its partners are ready to support other Member States where necessary to emulate Seychelles and strengthen efforts to improve sustainable management of fisheries. All this is in support of the SADC Protocol on Fisheries, which encourages Member States to exchange and/or make available information essential for ensuring sustainable utilisation of the aquatic resources and ecosystems in the SADC Region.
In the SADC Region, transparency was recognised as an important tool to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing since 2015. Lack of transparency allows illegal operators to create as much confusion as possible around their identities; escaping detection by changing vessel names; concealing ownership; flying different flags to avoid detection; or removing ships from registers entirely. These weaknesses allow illegal fishing to thrive.
It is estimated that IUU fishing costs the global economy between US$10 and US$23.5 billion every year, more than US$50 million in the SADC Region, and is a critical factor undermining efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries. Vulnerable coastal communities that rely on healthy fish stocks for food security and income suffer consequently.
Since 2018, SADC Secretariat has engaged in efforts to raise awareness on the importance of transparency in the Region. In partnership with Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF), Indian Ocean Commission (IOC)-SWIOFISH1 project and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), several studies were conducted in the Region assessing the levels of transparency, mainly surrounding the governance and licensing of fishing vessels and existing gaps. The studies have found that simple, low-cost measures – which include publishing fishing licence lists and giving vessels unique numbers – are well within the reach of any country and can play a pivotal role in the battle against illegal fishing and related crimes such as human rights abuse in the sector.
While there are many aspects to achieve sustainable fisheries, the public availability of credible information is critical. But it has not been a priority as many governments are still not disclosing even basic information on their fisheries sector, such as laws, permits, fish agreements, stock assessments, financial contributions, catch data, and subsidies.
Not all companies are reliably reporting on catch volumes, fishing practices and payments to governments. The data that is already publicly available is too often incomplete, dated, unverified, or not readily accessible, affecting the capacity of governments to manage their fisheries efficiently and sustainably, as well as the ability for effective oversight and accountability.
Illegal fishing creates a vicious cycle of degradation and decline. As the ocean ecosystems are degraded and fish stocks fall, so does income from the vessels. To scrape a profit, unscrupulous companies exploit workers, often engaging in violent human rights abuses and employing forced, bonded and slave labour. The FISH-i Africa project has documented shocking abuse aboard fishing vessels across the South Western Indian Ocean waters from slavery to murder – all facilitated by the lack of transparency.