A Q&A with Dr. Jude Bijoux- Marine Conservation, Fisheries and Climate Change Adaptation Consultant
The fisheries sector in the Seychelles archipelago is well developed with artisanal fisheries, semi-industrial fisheries and industrial fisheries providing food security and employment opportunities for the community. According to the World Bank, the sector is the second largest in the country after tourism, and employs 17 per cent of the population, as well as contributing 20 per cent to the country’s GDP.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy in the Seychelles is therefore keen on protecting this livelihood and has taken several actions, such as the negotiation of new international fisheries agreements, embracing of the Fisheries Transparency Initiative, implementation of fisheries improvement programs (FIPs), better defining its fisheries policies and the implementation of new fisheries management plans and management measures.
The Seychelles is also leading the way with innovative financing tools for coastal and marine resources, particularly with the world’s first blue bond – a pioneering financial instrument designed to support sustainable marine and fisheries projects.
The Nairobi Convention Secretariat spoke with former fisheries biologist at the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), now a consultant. His scientific interests are in understanding the mobility of fish, factors that structure coral reef fish communities and the restoration of marine habitats affected by climate change.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: How did you get into this field?
I worked at the Seychelles National Park for 6 years before moving on to work with a project for Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) on Integrated Coastal Zone Management. Thereafter, I furthered my studies and got into the fisheries sector. During that time, I did a lot of research on spawning aggregation of fish and how to integrate it into fisheries management. I then worked with the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) as the head of research, after which I started consulting in marine environment conservation, small-scale fisheries, operation management and climate change and vulnerability assessments.
Q: Tell us about your work at the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA). What achievement are you most proud of during your time there?
As the Head of Research, I spearheaded several research projects – many of which are ongoing. For example, we sought to learn the basic biology of key commercial marine species that the Seychelles had to manage, considering that such basic information was unknown.
I am also proud of the work we did on spawning aggregation of fish. The research informed a number of management strategies in the Mahe Plateau demersal fisheries management plan [editor’s note: the plan aims to ensure sustainable fisheries that provide for Seychelles’ current and future needs, while conserving fish stocks and marine ecosystems]. New regulations in support of the plan came into force on January 1, 2022. There are now new regulations that limit the impact of fishing on certain fish aggregation sites. In one of the Seychelles outer islands, research has led to restrictions of fishing at a known spawning aggregation time during certain periods of the year, and have essentially acted as Seychelles first temporary protected area.
It took about 10 years for it to move from research to regulation and implementation. A notable successful example of the implementation of this plan is a site at which fishing is not allowed at certain times of year.
Q: How do you view the importance of linking scientific research on fisheries, climate change, and other marine conversation matters into policy and practice? What challenges are there, and what advice would you give fellow scientists and policymakers in the region?
First, you should make sure that there is a need [for the desired policy], and that the agenda is not being pushed by only one segment of the population. Fisheries management, for example, was seen as a requirement by everyone in Seychelles. Before, anyone could come in and fish as much as they wanted, both commercially or , as the amount of catch was unregulated.
Second, drive the science-to-policy-and-practice process both bottom-up and top-down. The policymakers need to see that the people-on-the-ground are interested, and vice versa.
Third, put a process in place, and follow it through. You should also ensure that there is general consensus on the final decision, which may start with incremental steps. You can always build on existing progress.
You also need to be patient as the process of passing policies is long. It is also very important that scientists and environmentalists involved are able to constructively work with politicians.
Q: Focusing on the Seychelles, what are the current risks in fisheries conservation and climate change? What would you like to see happen?
There is no concrete data on the possible magnitude of climate change impact on Seychelles’ fisheries. There is also little room for expansion of the capture side of the fisheries sector. As most of the demersal fisheries operate on the shallow Mahe Plateau, warming of the sea could have serious consequences for the growth and reproductive biology of commercially targeted species as well as the habitats on which these species depend. This could threaten the different fish stocks and the livelihoods of the people that depends on them.
Another major risk is the disruption of the tuna fisheries sector. The Seychelles have already had a glimpse of how severe such as disruption could be. Usually, tuna moves in an annual cyclic pattern around the Seychelles islands. In 1998, however, climate change and the El Niño disrupted the cycle and caused most of the fish to migrate eastwards towards Indonesia. Due to greater distance from Port Victoria, the purse seiners made use of Southeast Asian Ports instead of travelling all the way westwards to Port Victoria, Seychelles. This translated into huge revenue loss for the country.
Q: When it comes to fisheries conservation in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), are there success stories you can highlight, and how do they impact local communities?
Seychelles has been at forefront of setting up Marine Protected Areas and declaring 30% of its EEZ as protected. There are regulations that are being drawn up for each of the different protected areas, as part of our Marine Spatial Planning initiative. This initiative is not only focused on MPAs, but also on other sustainable use zones. Some of the MPAs in place are also quite massive, and so the country is now working towards stepping-up surveillance and enforcement.
There are also some initiatives coming up such as the Seychelles GEF7 project, whose focus will be on strengthening institutions involved in managing the Marine Spatial Plan (MSP). The project will support the MSP implementation process in a number of ways including targeted capacity building, setting up of online reporting and information dissemination platforms as well as supporting continuous stakeholders participation.
Q: Has there been blow-back in areas where fishing controls have been put in place, and if so, how have you dealt with it?
We saw blow-back from communities where MPAs were established 40-50 years ago by the government, with no community involvement. There has also been resistance to adhering to the laws from some community members who are socio-economically more advantaged, who bring tourists to certain MPAs at certain times of the day and counter-intuitively wants to fish in these same MPAs at other times.
Other than that, there has been no blow-back from the fishers in the recently established marine protected areas. This can be attributed to the high level of consultations before establishing the current MPAs, and the use of an activities compatibility matrix during the decision making process in deciding and agreeing on the allowable activities for the different zones identified in the MSP.
Click here to read Seychelles’ chapter in the Western Indian Ocean Marine Protected Areas Outlook.