Relief measures for artisanal fishermen | 31 March 2020
In a bid to offer some relief to the fisheries sector which has recently felt the grappling effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Ministry for Fisheries and Agriculture has implemented an emergency plan to sustain artisanal fishermen during the crisis.
The provisions of the plan were yesterday announced in a press conference by Minister Charles Bastienne, interim chief executive of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) Cyril Bonnelame and chairman of the Fishing and Boat Owners Association Beattie Hoareau, who noted the significant proportion of fishermen who have been adversely impacted by the closure of restaurants and hotel establishments which usually constitute 50 percent of their market, as well as disruptions in export markets including the European Union (EU) and United States of America.
Currently there are about 500 artisanal fishing vessels with around 1500 persons employed in the sector. The average catch of demersal fish (deep-sea) on a monthly basis is 400 tonnes, 50 percent of which is sold to hotels and restaurants and the other 50 percent of which is sold on the local market for consumption.
“As you know, our main actors in the fisheries sector are facing difficult situations and when such is the case, we as the government have to come up with solutions that can bring about some relief for our actors. The main aim of the plan is to guarantee our food and nutrition security to our nation during this pandemic. We need to find ways to valorise our resources better than before. Under the plan, we are ensuring that artisanal fishermen continue to go out to fish. We are conscious that for the time being, a lot of them are awaiting the interventions mainly because they are encountering difficulties to sell their fish and also under the plan we have to ensure that there is a guaranteed market in which they can sell their catch at a reasonable price,” Minister Batienne started off.
As per the newly introduced programme, artisanal fishermen can register with SFA (specifically for the programme), whose role is to act as an agent between the fishermen and fish-processing businesses, who have agreed to process the catch to be made available on the local market.
According to Minister Bastienne, the seven existing fish processing plants have already been consulted and are committed to working with the government to aid artisanal fishermen.
In line with the plan, artisanal fishermen are being encouraged to resume with their fishing activities on account of the guaranteed market through the processors, in addition to other provisions intended to reduce the cost of operation for such activities.
All artisanal fishermen who participate on the programme will benefit from ice at half the usual cost. For the time being, ice is priced at R30 for 60kg and the fishermen on the programme will pay R15 for a 60kg bag. Similarly, bait which is currently priced at R15 or R16 per kilo from private suppliers, will be available to fishermen on the programme at no higher than R5 per kilo, Minister Bastienne said.
“SFA will sell bait and we are not expecting that bait will be priced higher than R5 per kilo of bait and this will help us to bring about considerable reductions in the cost of operation for artisanal fishermen. We were told through consultations that the price of ice accounts for about 40 to 45 percent of their total cost of operation and not only will this reduce the cost of operation but will also allow our fishermen to earn some revenue,” the minister said.
“We are encouraging fishermen who usually sell their fish to the community to continue doing so. In fact, they too will benefit from cheaper ice and bait so we expect that the benefits are passed on to consumers,” Minister Bastienne noted.
Prices at which fish processors will purchase from the fishermen have already been determined, with red snapper (bourzwa) priced at R65 per kilo, zob or vyey at R45 per kilo and karang at R20 per kilo.
As for processors, who also have to register with SFA to be part of the programme, they will purchase the catch from registered fishermen at the set price, process the fish – fillet, slice, packaging, labelling and pricing with a third partner, the Seychelles Trading Commission (STC) as the readily-available market, who will buy the products from processors and distribute on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.
Minister Bastienne also urged retail outlets to contribute towards the programme by making available space at their retail outlets to sell the fish products and make it available to everyone in the community.
“Processors will have a cost, we are finalising the details with the processors, that they can add to the purchased price, and after STC will put a mark-up for its operating cost before reaching the retailer who will also add their mark-up. Considering all this, we are foreseeing that the price of fish will be much lower than it is currently and our aim is to make it as cheap as possible to make it accessible to all our people,” Minister Bastienne said.
As most processing plants are fairly small and newly established, the government will make available financial support through a loan, at 1 percent that they can tap into for assistance in relation to cash flow, to make their initial purchases of fish stock. To facilitate this usually lengthy process, the ministry is fast-tracking loan requirements through the Fisheries Development Fund.
Semi-industrial fishing which is targeted mainly at the export markets has not been excluded from the plan. Semi-industrial fishermen and boat owners of semi-industrial vessels have also been impacted negatively as trade has been disrupted and somewhat halted as more and more borders closed and restrictions are enforced.
“With semi-industrial fishing, most of the catch is sold fresh on ice and is exported mainly to Europe and to America and since the markets are now closed, we are saying that semi-industrial fishermen and boat-owners of semi-industrial fishing vessels can apply for assistance under the scheme announced by the President through the Ministry of Finance, Trade, Investment and Economic Planning. We are not encouraging them to go fishing for tuna and tuna-like fishes since there is no market for the time being and we feel that demersal and the additional stock leftover from the closure of hotel and restaurants, we will have sufficient stock to build a reasonable stock for food and nutrition security,” Minister Bastienne concluded.