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Mauritian Tuna Fishers: EU Gives An Egg, Taking Away An Ox Mauritius, December 14, 12

Mauritian tuna fishermen claim the EU purse seine fleet operating in their waters is threatening their livelihood, but the government disagrees. The island country’s artisanal fishermen say they travel 15 nautical miles from the coast and there are still no fish.

The Mauritian government has allowed EU vessels to catch 5,500 tons of fish a year for three years against an annual payment of EUR 660,000. The deal does not sit well with the fishermen and has them worried about the future. “They are giving us an egg and taking away an ox,” says Lallmamode Mohamedally, who works at Les Salines, near Port-Louis.

Judex Rampol, chairperson of the Syndicat des Pêcheurs, which represents the artisanal fishermen, says he does not understand why the government is renting their 2.3 million sq km zone to the EU fleet for “peanuts.”

The fishermen are objecting more to the methods used by the EU vessels, than to the presence of foreign boats. “We don’t mind if they fish like everybody else, like the Taiwanese and the Japanese. Only long-liners please, no seiners, because these vessels catch all fishes, small and big, alike. This is a waste,” Rampol says. Long-line fishing involves the use of a hook at the end of lines, whereas purse seiners use a dragnet.

Ashhok Subron, member of Rezistans ek Alternativ, a socio-political group, has sent a petition to the government on this issue. He believes this agreement is unfavourable to Mauritius “because our government is selling our tuna at MRs4.56 (USD 0.14) a kilo to the Europeans while locals pay more than Rs200 (USD 6) a kilo of tuna of poor quality when it is available. This is not a good deal,” he says. Subron claims it does not benefit the workers in the seafood hub as well where the tuna is processed for exports to the EU. “They earn about Rs4000 monthly (about USD130),” he says.

Fisheries Minister Nicolas Von Mally disagrees and argues that Mauritius needs help from foreign countries to exploit its vast territorial waters. “We have no fishing vessels. Should we depend only on locals, many fishes would have since long died of old age,” he says with some irony. Von Mally stressed that the fish landed by the EU vessels at Port-Louis is processed by the tuna canning factories of the island and about 95% of the production is sold on the European markets.

Lallmamode Mohamedally says local fishermen can supply this fish to the canneries and adds that they should not depend on the EU fleet.

Bahim Khan Taher, manager of Taher Seafoods, believes Mauritian fishermen can also exploit their fish resources if they had the updated equipment and vessels. “We need some help from the government in terms of fiscal incentives to go out fishing there,” he says, adding that there is a big potential to develop the Mauritian seafood hub.

This fishing agreement between Mauritius and the EU is also challenged by Vassen Kauppaymoothoo, a Mauritian oceanographer and environmental engineer, who warns of overfishing and the depletion of tuna stocks in the region. He says the EU fleets have moved into the Indian Ocean because they have exhausted grounds in the Atlantic. “There are no fish out there because it has been overfished by these same vessels from Portugal, France and Spain. The only ocean where there are still some fish is the Indian Ocean. Don’t ever believe that the EU will have pity on Mauritius when there are no fish around the island. They’ll go somewhere else.”

At the EU office in Port-Louis, Alessandro Mariani, head of delegation, said: “Just in Mauritius, 5,500 jobs arise from the tuna landed by the EU vessels.” Mariani does not see any competition between the EU fleet and local fishermen “because they operate very far away from each other – the EU vessels operate 15 miles from the coasts while the locals fish three miles away.” The fish species targeted are also different. He also points out that the EU provides EUR 2 million over three years to be used for the benefit of local fishermen. He believes a ban on the EU vessels will have a negative impact on the livelihood of fishermen.