The fishery sector directly generates over 130,000 jobs in the Indian Ocean and significantly contributes to the GDPs of the region’s islands © Hervé Raherimiamina/Tazara
“Fisherfolk in the Indian Ocean region are slowly but surely stepping back into the limelight,” says Dorothée Ravomanana, regional representative of the EU-funded SmartFish programme of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), which aims to strengthen regional cooperation and promote the development of fisheries by focusing on governance, surveillance, trade and food security. This is encouraging news for artisanal fishers who are often marginalised, despite fisheries being crucial for Indian Ocean countries.
Artisanal fishers dominate the sector
Artisanal fisherfolk, in particular, account for a substantial share of production in the region. According to FAO, the sector generates over 130,000 direct jobs and helps sustain the livelihoods of millions of people in related activities, such as boat construction, gear maintenance and fish processing. In Madagascar, 60% of the sector’s added value (through smoking, processing and transporting fish) is generated by small-scale fisheries and Coralie Gevers, World Bank representative in the Comoros says, “Small-scale fishing is a vital social safety net for disadvantaged people.” Fisheries also provide an important source of protein for local communities.
In 2016, according to country data published by SmartFish, fisheries accounted for 6.7% of GDP in Madagascar, 10% in the Comoros, over 9% in the Seychelles and 1% in Mauritius. Yet, artisanal fishers often have no access to funding to obtain fishing equipment, such as lines, boats and ice boxes, and struggle with poor living and working conditions. For example, only around 10 of the 85,000 fishers in Madagascar have a motor boat, while regulations governing safety at sea and conservation of fishery products are almost non-existent.
Legitimacy now recognised
“It is often hard for donors to make the right decisions because the viewpoints of artisanal fishers are not sufficiently represented”, says Andriamanana Hajaniaina, Head of the Statistics Directorate at the Ministry of Fisheries in Madagascar. To overcome this lack of representation before national and international governmental and non-governmental bodies, fisherfolk in the Indian Ocean region – aware of their leading economic role and the need to organise themselves – launched the Indian Ocean Federation of Fisherfolk (FPAOI) with support from the SmartFish programme in October 2015. Through FPAOI, fisherfolk receive training in drying and smoking fish using processing technology, as well as on fisheries governance, and experiences are exchanged with artisanal fishers from other Indian Ocean islands.
In 2016, FPAOI became a member of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), an intergovernmental organisation responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean. Lala Ranaivomanana, former FPAOI secretary general, explains that FPAOI’s membership “enforces its legitimacy, so its voice is now being heard.”
FPAOI also advocates for the rights of its marginalised members via unity, experience sharing and cooperation with different regional stakeholders within the sector. For example, the Tazara ship owners’ association, a Malagasy FPAOI member, has been working closely with local traditional fishers, sharing its cold storage units with artisanal fishers to enable them to preserve the quality of their catch.
Integration at the national level
In the Seychelles, with FPAOI support, artisanal fishers have been increasing their collaboration with different stakeholders in the value chain to promote sustainable fisheries. Cooperation with the Seychelles Fishing Authority, the Bureau of Standards, hotels and consumers led to the launch of the ‘Seychelles Label’ programme; a code of conduct to ensure resource quality, freshness, traceability and sustainability, while preserving the environment. Consumers have confidence in the quality of products with the Seychelles Label, allowing fishers to fetch higher prices. “This label enhances the added value of the sector,” says Beatty Hoarau, former president of the Seychelles Fishing Boat Owners Association. She explains that a hook-and-line technique, traditional to the Seychelles, is used to target specific species to sustainably catch fish compliant with the Label; the discarding of unwanted fish does not occur, and little damage is inflicted on marine habitats.
In Madagascar, fisherfolk have become major stakeholders in the sector since the Fisheries Code, enacted in February 2016, gave them full authority over fisheries resource management, which is no longer in the hands of the state. Local fishing communities have come together in formal associations, so-called Vondrona OlonaIfotony, for the purpose of managing marine fishing areas and resources; fish stocks are now well managed, the environment is better protected and fishery production has increased. NGOs provide support, such as capacity building through the renewal of equipment and facilitating access to funding, while the government monitors the legality of fishing activities.
However, despite FPAOI’s progress in strengthening the representation of artisanal fishers, many still do not have the means to defend their interests, particularly as their literacy rates are so low. In Madagascar, for example, more than 75% of fisherfolk barely have any primary school education. In addition, Roginah Rafidison, director general of fisheries in Madagascar, states, “Besides the lack of political willingness to support the sector, the issue is more economic than technical. But once artisanal fisheries are consolidated, it will be necessary to strengthen professional export collectors to boost the sector.” Export collectors act as middlemen, helping increase fishermen’s access to international markets at good prices.
Enhancing tuna resource management through cooperation
The IOTC, formed in 1996, encourages cooperation among its 32-member states to conserve and optimise tuna resources in the Indian Ocean, and encourage the sustainable development of fisheries in the region. About 740,000 t of tuna, worth €2-3 billion, is caught every year in the Indian Ocean.
Of 16 motions presented at the 21st Session of the IOTC, held in Indonesia in May 2017, eight ‘Conservation and Management Measures’ were approved, including two proposed by the Seychelles. “We asked for a ban on the throwing of by-catches back into the ocean, suggesting that these fishes be taken to shore and used for export or processed,” explained Seychelles’ Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Michael Benstrong. The IOTC also agreed to reduce fishing allowances of the yellowfin tuna by 15% to combat over-exploitation. An agreement to establish a list of vessels presumed to have carried out illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the phasing out of the use of large-scale driftnets were two more measures introduced.