With increasing demands on its food production networks, Seychelles has announced that it will inject life back into the aquaculture industry by opening a new facility in Providence in August. While tourism accounts for the bulk of the growth seen in the Seychellois economy since independence in 1976, fishing has surpassed the GDP contribution of tourism, and canned tuna now makes up more than 90 per cent of exports. The return to mariculture (the branch of aquaculture that specifically relates to salt water) is supported by the European Union and the Advance Africa organisation and will stand as a pilot project to determine the viability of a larger aquaculture scheme. Four species of fish have been identified as stock for this first stage, in a project that has the potential to create much-needed economic diversity for the relatively robust, but still vulnerable Seychellois economy.
The economy of the Seychelles has been generally characterised by positive growth, particularly in the tourism industry that followed the opening of the international airport in 1971. The growth of the tourism sector has been bolstered and multiplied by a robust fisheries sector. Industrial fishing dominates the fishing industry, which mostly consists of liners operating out of Europe and Asia. Industrial fishing is largely responsible for catching tuna varieties, in particular skipjack and yellowfin. While tuna is especially important to the economy of the Seychelles, several issues arise from the dependence on the species. First, canned tuna is a relatively low-value product that is processed in Port Victoria, part of a free trade zone and roughly 75 per cent of the canned tuna is immediately transhipped, limiting the local value of the product.
Additionally, the sustainability of fish stocks has become increasingly tenuous, with quotas on yellowfin tuna being set by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission in 2016. Those quotas have seen Seychelles reduce its yellowfin catch by 15 per cent from 2015. While the reduction may be enough to support waning fish stocks, yellowfin tuna is not the only threatened fish species in the region, with the reduced catches by artisanal fishing enterprises suggesting the over-exploitation of a number of other species.
The issue is made more complicated by the nature of tuna fishing itself. Many of the fish that the Seychellois fishing industry relies on are highly migratory, and their presence varies from year to year, depending on the availability of the small ocean species that they prey on. Coupled with the ongoing threat of pirate attacks, the tuna haul in any given year is highly variable.
Complicating the issue further is tourism: the other pillar of the Seychellois economy, which is also highly vulnerable to external shocks. Arrivals from Europe dropped significantly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, translating to a marked drop in economic growth.
Although the country managed to diversify its tourist industry by attracting more travellers from destinations such as China and South Africa, the European debt crisis also created significant difficulties for the Seychellois economy, as the majority of the country’s income was denominated in euros, while external payments were to be made in US dollars. That led to a fall in the trading power of the Seychelles, further demonstrating the need to ensure a more diverse economy to help mitigate external economic shocks.
For the Seychelles, aquaculture has been surprisingly under-utilised, with the existing three ventures consisting of farms for seafood and pearls. The mariculture pilot that was recently announced will add four species of fish to that tally. The fish will largely be for export and it is hoped that the project will contribute between 20,000 and 50,000 tonnes of fish per year to help satisfy the growing global demand for fish while also contributing to the creation of a number of high-value jobs. If this pilot programme succeeds, a flourishing aquaculture industry could help to diversify the Seychellois economy by moving the fisheries sector away from its heavy reliance on tuna products, as well as creating a sustainable industry that does not rely on seasonal and environmental exigencies.