THE CASE OF DISAPPEARING FISH

Two decades ago while still a senior bureaucrat in government Nirmal warned of the disappearance of the 'icon of 'Seychelles dinner table'....they laughed at him....

[VICTORIA 15/03/2008]Back in 1987, when I worked at the Seychelles Fishing Authority, I suggested in a meeting that one day species such as the Red Snapper or Bourzwa may not be available to the regular Seychellois and that we should start looking at various conservation measures. I was trying to provoke some serious discussions about over fishing but was instead laughed out of the room.

 Twenty years later SFA scientists, despite being armed with the latest studies showing that Bourzwa could become extinct as a commercial species, are still being ridiculed by some fishers and other stakeholders. A scientific study shows that the recent dramatic increase in catches of Bourzwa threatens the viability of the stock and requires immediate management attention. The study says there is a high proportion of immature Bourzwa in the catch – these fish are caught before they have reproduced!

 In fact, several fish species which are caught by the coastal artisanal fishery are fully exploited or even overexploited. Targeting of high value species such as Bourzwa puts strong pressure on these stocks. The concentration of fishing effort in the inter-monsoon seasons and the disruption of spawning activity of these fish may also jeopardize the reproductive capacity of the populations. 

 Coupled with over-fishing are the impacts of climate change. The coral bleaching of 1998 caused almost total mortality among corals in many sites in Seychelles. The collapse of the physical structure of Seychelles reefs accelerated around 2003.

 Associated with the destruction of the reefs are declines in certain fish species, with local extinctions. There have been severe declines in smaller fish and an increase in larger fish. As the corals die and the reef structure degenerates and collapses there are fewer refuges for smaller fish.  A scientific paper published last year suggests that our reef fishery is being maintained largely by the fish that were born and growing before or at the time of the bleaching event.

 We need to move beyond identification of problems to actual implementation of solutions. But most of all we need a change in attitude regarding exploitation of natural resources such as fish. The marine environment is nowhere near being as inexhaustible as many Seychellois believe and we need to change our behavior and practices towards it

 As I said in a paper published in 1990 by a UN organization, “Fisheries, are not only important for food, but also contribute significantly to the socio-economic stability of Seychelles. The sustainable management of fisheries, the conservation of fish stocks and the protection of habitats are therefore central to the continued prosperity of Seychelles”.[ENDS]

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