Big fish and tiddlers: Mauritian fishermen claim their livelihood is threatened by the EU fleet of fishing vessels operating in the island nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Mauritius. The government does not agree. Who is right? Report by Nasseem Ackbarally from Port-Louis.

Author:Ackbarally, Nasseem
Position:SPOTLIGHT
 
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THE BIG VESSELS FROM EUROPE ARE taking away our fish that was abundant in our lagoons in the past but no longer. Today, we fish at a distance of 15 nautical miles from the coast but still there is no fish. What will happen in five years' time to our jobs?" asks Lallmamode Mohamedally, who works at Les Salines, near Port-Louis, together with 34 other artisanal fishermen. This, situation, claim the fishermen, has been caused by EU vessels operating in the territorial waters of Mauritius.

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The Mauritian government has allowed EU vessels to harvest 5,500 tons of fish a year for three years against an annual payment of some [euro]660,000. The deal has not pleased the fishermen. "They are giving us an egg and taking away an ox," says Mohamedally.

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The chairperson of the Syndicat des Pecheurs, Judex Rampol, is furious. "We do not understand this decision from our government. Why is it renting our 2.3m sq km of the territory to the Europeans for peanuts? The EU vessels are competing with us; our livelihood is threatened," he told African Business.

It seems that the fishermen are not opposed to the presence of foreign fishing fleets as such but object to the methods used by EU vessels. "We don't mind if they fish like everybody else, like the Taiwanese and the Japanese. Only long-liners please, no seiners, because these vessels catch all fishes, small and big, alike. This is a waste," he says. Long-line fishing involves the use of a hook at the end of lines, whereas seiner fishing involves the use of a dragnet.

Ashhok Subron, member of Rezistans ek Alternativ, a socio-political group, has petitioned the government on this issue. He believes this agreement is unfavourable to Mauritius "because our government is selling our tuna at MRs4.56 ($0.14) a kilo to the Europeans while locals pay more than RS200 ($6) a kilo of tuna of poor quality when it is available. This is not a good deal," he says. Subron claims it does not benefit the workers in the seafood hub as well where the tuna is processed for exports to the EU. "They earn about Rs4000 monthly (about $130)," he says.

Fisheries Minister Nicolas Von Mally disagrees. He argues that Mauritius needs help from friendly countries to exploit its vast exclusive economic zone. "We have no fishing vessels. Should we depend only on locals, many fishes would have...

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