The fisheries sector is divided into two distinct categories: traditional fishing by a domestic fleet of some 400 vessels; and industrial tuna fishing by foreign vessels, which began to develop in the mid-1970s and has emerged as a major revenue source. The domestic inshore fleet consists mainly of open boats equipped with inboard or outboard engines, operating within a radius of sixteen to forty-eight kilometers of the main islands. Domestic offshore operations on banks surrounding the Mahé group and the Amirantes Isles are conducted by handlines from larger boats with sleeping quarters. Most of the catch is frozen. The fish division of SMB bought and distributed fish landed on the three main islands to avoid serious price fluctuations. An export trade in the local catch developed after the opening of the international airport made possible deliveries to Europe and other markets.
Local consumption of fish traditionally has been high, and has been estimated at eighty-five kilograms per capita annually in the early 1990s. The local catch is also an important menu item at the tourist hotels. The domestic fisheries catch reached 5,734 tons in 1992, about 10 percent of which was accounted for by a new industrial fishing venture, the Pêcheur Breton mothership-dory enterprise.
Beyond 100 kilometers from the Seychelles coasts, fishing is conducted by some fifty-five French and Spanish purse seiners based at Victoria. (The Spanish vessels briefly shifted their base to Mombasa in 1992 but returned when the Seychelles government reduced its port charges.) Some 160,000 tons of tuna were transshipped through Victoria in 1992, of which 45,000 tons were reported by the vessels' owners to have been fished within Seychelles' EEZ. The Seychelles authorities had no way of verifying these claims.
In 1991 Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar formed the Tuna Fishing Association to promote their interests. In addition, a series of three-year agreements granted European Community (EC) vessels the right to fish in the Seychelles EEZ. The fourth such agreement, signed in early 1993, was expected to generate US$13.5 million annually. The islands' economy also benefit from the resulting business activity at Victoria in the form of port services, stevedoring, and ship chandling. The Seychelles government had leased one purse seiner to profit more directly from the tuna industry, and is building ten seiners, but the project has encountered financial difficulties.
In 1992 the Seychelles Fishing Authority issued 292 licenses to long-lines fishing vessels mainly from Taiwan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). These vessels make few calls at Victoria, offloading their catches onto motherships in mid-ocean. Seychelles is unable to carry out naval and air surveillance of possible illegal fishing, especially in more remote parts of the EEZ. There is a strong presumption, however, that unauthorized use is being made of its fishing grounds.
The tuna canning plant opened in 1987, with 70 percent of its capital of Seychelles origin and 30 percent invested by a French cooperative; the plant is designed to process 8,000 to 10,000 tons of fish a year. It employs 425 people, mostly women, and has brought a rapid growth of export earnings, reaching US$12.3 million by 1991. The net gain in balance of payments was less because the operation required some imports, notably the cans, which could not be produced domestically.
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