In order to allow our inshore ecosystems to recover from decades of abuse it is necessary to stop fishing within the lagoon. The fishermen described in the article below are fishing outside the lagoon but the sustainability of their trade is being undermined by irresponsible government policy. It is high time that our natural assets are properly protected by the enforcement of laws against polluting discharges and the implementation of proper controls on foreign fishing vessels.
Fishermen across the country fear for the future – and they base their concerns on the past.
Some fishermen we spoke to claim that catches are down as much as 80% over the past five years.
They point to three main reasons: pollution, illegal fishing and climate change.
Statistics reveal that total fish production fell by 7.4%, from 3,143 tonnes in first six months of 2009 to 2,910 tonnes in the same period this year.
There was a drop of 17.7% in the catch of tuna and bank fish, from 2,108 tonnes to 1,734 tonnes.
Tuna is the main species caught by fishermen as the authorities have encouraged them to shift from artisanal fishing to off-lagoon activities. The situation does not look good at all.
“Tuna stocks are expected to reach our shores in October but this sight is becoming rarer,” says Mohamedally Lallmamode, secretary of the Fishermen Trade Union.
“We blame this on illegal fishing by Taiwanese ships off our shores; they sweep the incoming tuna well before they reach Mauritius. Even though the government sells fishing licences to some foreign fishermen, there are many illegal boats out there.”
This situation is further aggravated, say fishermen, by the loss the offshore patrol vessel, The Vigilant, which has been unable to take to sea for a long time becausse of breakdowns.
‘Foreign fishing boats are depleting the stocks. Usually the tuna would come to Mauritius in October and lay their eggs and stay around for two months, but the Taiwanese ships are catching the fish even before they reach our shores’
Illegal fishing is costing the islands millions in terms of forfeited revenues from fishing licences, fish catches and depletion of stocks.
“The Minister of Fisheries Nicolas Von Mally is ‘absent’. We have asked for meetings but had to resort to protests to get him to hear our pleas. This all boils down to him being Minister of Rodrigues and Fisheries at the same time, which results in him spending more of his time dealing with the Rodrigues portfolio given that he is a Rodrigues MP,” says Mr Lallmamode.
The dumping of untreated effluents into the sea is denounced by fishermen as a major contributor to dwindling fish stocks.
“The situation right now is very tight. We took out loans to buy a boat and we are now facing difficulties in paying these. I have seen my catches decrease by about 80% over the past 5-10 years,” says Mr Jean Cunoosamy, a 56-year-old fisherman from Cite la Cure. He has been in the trade for over three decades.
He blames this situation on climate change and pollution and says there are effluents being discharged in the open sea without being treated. The fisherman says the weather is not helping either, rough seas over the past month having prevented the island’s fishermen from venturing out.
“Fortunately we are paid the bad weather allowance of Rs200 per day of bad weather, but then we have to pay our loans from that money. I contracted a loan of Rs200,000 to buy the boat and engines,” he added.
He said that 10 years ago he would catch four to five tuna in any daily outing. Not anymore. Moreover, fuel costs are “huge” and this causes them further financial hardship. His views are shared by Patrick Marisson, a 45- year-old fisherman from Riviere Noire. He claims catches are down as much as 90% over the past five to six years.
“The foreign fishing boats are depleting the stocks. Usually the tuna would come to Mauritius in October and lay their eggs and stay around for two months, but the Taiwanese ships are catching the fish even before they reach our shores and it is our fish they are taking away,” said Mr Marisson.
There are plenty of questions for Minister Von Mally to answer…