Fisheries transparency on the agenda of SWIO countries as regional workshop gathers governments, businesses and civil society in Seychelles

Fisheries transparency on the agenda of SWIO countries as regional workshop gathers governments, businesses and civil society in Seychelles

29-30 March 2023. Fisheries practitioners from the South-West Indian Ocean (SWIO) Region gathered in Seychelles to attend a two-day regional workshop aimed at enhancing awareness of the importance of transparency for sustainable fisheries management.

The workshop, entitled ‘Promoting Transparency for Sustainable Marine Fisheries through Collective Actions in the South-West Indian Ocean (SWIO) Region’, was held at Eden Bleu Hotel, Eden Island, and ran from 29 March until 30 March. Among the roughly 30 participants were representatives of governments, small-scale fisheries associations and civil society organisations from a range of countries including Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.

The SWIO Region has substantial marine resources and valuable fish stocks, contributing significantly to government revenues, food and nutrition security, as well as employment. Fisheries is a core pillar in developing sustainable Blue Economies in SWIO countries, however, recent decades have witnessed unsustainable fishing practices and overexploitation of stocks, due to – inter alia – legal overfishing as well as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF). This has resulted in significant socio-economic losses, declining marine resources and decreasing revenues within the SWIO Region.

Good governance in fisheries – and in particular its underpinning principles of collaboration, transparency and accountability – is a prerequisite to manage fisheries efficiently and sustainably, as well as the ability for effective oversight, accountability and public dialogue. The importance of transparency in fisheries governance and sustainable fisheries management as a concrete benefit and contribution to building resilience and sustainability at local, national, and regional level has also been recognised in many regional and international fora, at the 7th Meeting of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) Ministers in Charge of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Ghana (5 – 8 April 2022).

However, transparency has not featured on the priority agenda within the SWIO region, with many governments still omitting to publish important information on a range of aspects on fisheries management (such as the status of fish stocks, fishing authorisations, access agreements or fish catch data). Additionally, the dissemination of information is often not timely, of insufficient quality, or is presented in ways that make it inaccessible to citizens. This lack of transparency is a major underlying contributor to many problems in the fisheries sector. Furthermore, incomplete or inaccurate data can lead to the marginalisation or undervaluation of certain groups in fisheries (such as women and small-scale fishers) and ultimately mean the entire sector receives less attention and visibility in a country’s national sustainable development agenda.

During his opening keynote speech, Jean-François Ferrari, Seychelles’ Minister of Fisheries and Blue Economy, noted: “I said in our first national workshop of the FiTI that ‘the government of Seychelles has a clear vision to make our fisheries the most transparent sector in the world’. This means we will be open about the bad as well as the good!…I am very pleased that in addition to Seychelles, we have now a second country in the region that is committed to increase transparency in fisheries through the FiTI: Madagascar. But more needs to be done and I am hopeful that this regional workshop can ignite a spark among other countries in our region. Transparency is doable, it doesn’t hurt and it generates tangible benefits for governments, honest businesses and our citizens who depend on a healthy marine environment.

Will May, FiTI’s Regional Coordinator for the Western Indian Ocean, stated: “Fisheries, by its very nature, is an incredibly complex sector to manage sustainably. The range of issues facing the sector – such as overfishing, IUU fishing, unequal access to fisheries resources and unfair benefit sharing, among others – necessitate a range of solutions. One approach to address these issues is to support governments to enhance the quality, credibility and useability of national fisheries management information, as outlined by the FiTI Standard. We look forward to exchanging with our regional partners on the various approaches to fisheries transparency, whether they focus on increasing public access to information, monitoring vessel movements, or promoting seafood traceability.”

Umair Shahid, Indian Ocean Tuna Manager/SWIO Fisheries Manager for WWF expressed, “Transparency has been recognised as one of the important tools to combat IUU fishing, which affects developing economies the most, undermining their rights to develop and sustain the socioeconomic benefits. Transparency in the fisheries sector needs to be at the forefront to close down the ring of illegal operators and harvest. For that to happen it is necessary to enhance regional cooperation, evaluate and undertake advancement in low-cost means of technology, and to have eyes on the sea and employ good governance mechanisms. Today, transparency initiatives are on the rise, and the public and consumers are aware and demanding legal fish products. For SWIO countries to tap into this potential, implementing the FiTI Standard may lead to economic incentives, opening up markets for their fisheries products. We want to create transparency and understanding and demonstrate that fisheries management, monitoring and control measures are essential to making fishing sustainable.”

Participants were each presented with a copy of Seychelles’ 2021 FiTI Report.

The regional workshop was co-organised by the FiTI, WWF Madagascar and the Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy of Seychelles, with funding provided by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).