Tuesday 16th April 2019
The Blue Economy
Mr Antoine Onezime, Chief Executive Officer of the James Michel Foundation, is ideally suited as a former journalist and Chief Execituve Officer of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation to carry the message of The Blue Economy to the world.

The concept was developed by James Michel while he was President of The Seychelles. It recognises the importance of the ocean to the economy of a small island state such as The Seychelles. A tiny land mass becomes 3,000 times larger when the territorial limits surounding each island are taken into account.

This has been formalised by the United Nations as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); the total area of land and sea under the authority and control of a sovereign state.

In 2017, Former President Michel set up the James Michel Foundation. Mr Antoine Onezime described the ongoing work of The Foundation in a meeting during the week.

The James Michel Foundation is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) formed to develop The Blue Economy concept. Tourism and fishing are the number one and two pillars of the economy of the islands. Both are dependent on the ocean. A large part of the work of the Foundation is interaction with the young people of The Seychelles. If they are inspired they will become educated in the area and take an active part in the management, conservation and development of these resources.

Vice-President Meriton is the Minister for The Blue Economy. The government role is to provide the necessary regulations to guide the work of the private sector and the NGOs.

With no direct link to the government, the NGOs can solicit funds from around the world without political commitments.

As President, James Michel negotiated a debt swap with The Paris Club, a group of EU nations. This in return for a commitment by The Seychelles to conservation and climate change studies on the islands. His efforts were recognised in the Clinton Global Initiative. The National Geographic Trust arranged another debt swap on the same basis. The important first steps have been taken. The effort now is to carry the work forward.

The crucial need now is for funds to do baseline studies for conservation efforts, for climate change analysis and protection of the existing ocean species.

In 2019, there is a growing awareness around the world that we must limit the footprint of man on the planet. Otherwise, we destroy the very thing that provide for life as we know it. Conservation involves efforts to allow use of these resources while protecting vulnerable habitats and species that depend on them. It also provides opportunities to reverse the effect of human exploitation in the past by removing alien species or moving endangered specimens to new areas where they can flourish.

Climate change will have a disproportional effect on small island nations. Here there is a need for careful studies for an accurate database of the ongoing effects.

When a timeline is established, it will be possible to extrapolate to a future date. At the moment, this would be speculation subject to instant challenge.

With the growing interest in conservation, there are opportunities for eco-tourism. National marine parks serve to stablise the existing marine environment and the creatures that call these places home. Plans to extent the marine park system will benefit the local diving community by extending the range of species available for visitors to observe.

Establishing ownership of the ocean territory of The Seychelles under the EEZ is the first step. The territory then has to be managed, maintained, protected and defended.

Fishing is the second main source of income in the economy of The Seychelles.

For the past forty years, the majority of the tuna has been caught by EU trawlers under an agreement with the Seychelles government. The agreement provides revenue for the government and supports the local Seychelles Fishing Association.

The tuna catch is regulated by The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. A body under UN Charter and set up with considerable input from interested parties in the EU.

A recent decision on the yellowfin tuna allocation was based on the catch in a year when fishing was severely restricted due to the threat of Somali piracy.

This was a serious underestimate of the size of the yellowfin tuna potential harvest.

The EU is also claiming that the forty year history of fishing in these waters confers a right to continue to do so. This issue is ongoing.

EU fishing is mainly by Spanish purse seine boats. Not all of their catch is landed in Victoria providing local jobs in the processing industry.

Purse seine fishing catches any marine animal unable to pass through the mesh of the fishing net. This by-catch is thrown overboard as unwanted. This by-catch could be landed in Victoria and provide raw material for processing by local businesses.

A new quay has been opened in Victoria for the purse seine trawlers. This will speed up the fish landing process and make it more likely that the EU boats will deliver their catch in Victoria.

These are not trivial issues. Shipping containers arrive in the dock in Victoria with imported goods. They return filled with cans of tuna. If there is no local tuna canning, the containers would have to return to Dubai or other ports empty. There would be an immediate rise in the price of imported items since the cost of returning empty shipping containers would be added to prices.

Seychelles boats registered in Victoria fish for tuna by longline. This is a more sustainable fishing method since it restricts the by-catch.

The future goal is to have more of the catch in Seychelles water by local boats to provide more jobs for local people. This goal will require careful negotiation at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and elsewhere.

Preservation and management of the marine resource requires increased efforts to police Seychelles waters and the continued collection of data on fish numbers and movements.

Somali piracy has been a serious problem for the local fishing industry. This requires international efforts to deal with the problem. There is poaching on the Outer Islands which are closer to Madagascar than Mahe. There are problems with Sri Lanka fishermen fishing illegally in Seychelles waters with drift nets.

Proper management of the marine resource needs reliable data on fish stocks. The Seychelles Fishing Authority compile annual figures from the logs of fishing boats.

There needs to be monitoring of these records to ensure that they are accurate and reliable. Additional information sources have to be developed. The marine environment poses particular challenges for establishing fish species, numbers and location.

All of these necessary efforts require adequate funds. Some are related to international concerns about climate change and its effect on the ocean environment.

It is the role of Mr Antoine Onezime and his team at the James Michel Foundation to pursue the global connections to advance our understanding in these important areas.

I extend my personal thanks to Mr Onezime for his patient explanation of the work of the Foundation.

The Scottish Perspective

Scots have made their living from the sea for centuries. In the Middle Ages, the sea was the main highway. After the defeat of the Vikings at The Battle of Largs, highland galleys controlled the waters on the west coast. Local fishing has been integral to the economy with boats operating out of small harbours.

Following the Highland Clearances, people were moved from good agricultural land to crofts on the sea margin. Crofters survived by harvesting seaweed. This was dried and burned to give potash and iodine. Farming on these marginal lands and this other income provided a living. Until the Westminster government cut the import tariffs on Portuguese potash and the second income stream disappeared overnight.

Fishing then became the second income source.

Herring were the making of Scots fishermen. The "Silver Darlings" made an annual appearance in Scottish waters and the fishing fleet followed them around the coastline. The womenfolk were part of this annual migration. Working in the small fishing ports to gut and pack the herring.

Then the annual appearance of this marine bounty stopped.

Steam power allowed fishermen to build trawlers and travel further from port to fish for cod and other larger fish. Eventually, diesel power replaced steam power. Bigger boats were built and purse seine fishing replaced longline fishing.

Fishing in Scottish waters is a dangerous and precarious profession. A balance of risk and reward. Technology was used to increase the reward and diminish the risk. Then cod stocks were in trouble. The waters had been overfished.

Britain had joined the EU. The rights of Scottish fishermen were bargaining chips on the negotiating table. Traded for the greater good.

Now Scottish fishermen were told when to fish and how many fish they were allowed to catch. Spanish and French trawlers had fishing rights in Scottish waters.

At the height of this crisis, Scottish boats were de-commissioned. The owners paid to scrap functioning fishing boats.

Scottish deep sea fishing is now but a shadow of its former self. Boats sail from Peterhead which has replaced Aberdeen as the main fishing port.

Aberdeen is now the port for the supply boats for the oil rigs offshore. The revenue from the North Sea Oil boom supported the Thatcher governemnt during its idealogical battle with the labour Unions.

Scottish fishing, heavy industry, steel making and coal mining vanished to become historical footnotes.

Salmon farming is now the mainstay for Scottish marine production. This is not without its problems. Seabed contamination is an issue. Disease in a fish population confined to a small pen is of concern. Sea lice from the farmed fish are said to be responsible for the decline in native salmon returning to Scottish rivers.

As elsewhere, there are opportunities for eco-tourism. Whale and dolphin watching is popular.

Earlier attempts to establish a whale oil extraction facility on an island on the west coast must have seemed to be a good idea at the time.

In retrospect, perhaps not so good.

Scotland has a long history of interaction with the ocean that surrounds the country. There are lessons for the Seychelles. The resource is not without limit. It has to be carefully managed. That management may involve other countries with different political agendas.

Nothing is static. The natural environment and the political environment change over time. The Blue Economy must adapt to these changes.