Slavery is another blot on industrial tuna fisheries – this time it’s not the EU

One clear day in 1987 I decided to go with my Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) colleague Felix on board an Asian long liner anchored a ways off Port Victoria. I was the new Assistant Director of Research and I wanted to understand all the intricacies of fisheries. Felix, a tough looking guy in charge of enforcement, warned me about the crewmen – we had been told that the long liners were manned by convicts and criminals serving time at sea. Today, with far more information and knowledge, I realise the worn-looking men were probably forced labour.

It’s been known for some years that large parts of the tuna fishing industry are built on the back of forced labour, or to call a spade a spade, slavery. The US has recently added fish caught by Chinese and Taiwanese distant-water fishing fleets to its annual “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor”. The majority of the crews on the Chinese fleets board are migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, who are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and who are sometimes recruited by agencies that deceive workers with false claims, says the US State Dept. The report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.

Several recent investigations by Greenpeace and others have identified the practices of Taiwanese distant-water longliner vessels as particularly problematic, says Monica Evans. Forced labor and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continue to occur within major tuna supply chains, despite efforts by governments to stamp them out.

Andy Shen, Senior Oceans Adviser at Greenpeace USA has said, the US’ decision to put Taiwanese-caught tuna on the List officially confirms that the Taiwanese fishing industry runs off slaves. Major American retailers such as Walmart and Costco, and national tuna brands such as Bumble Bee, source from the Taiwanese fleet and must assure consumers they are not profiting from and perpetuating modern slavery on the high seas.”

Taiwan is the second-largest fishing entity on the high seas, with over 1,000 Taiwanese-flagged and over 200 Taiwanese-owned, foreign-flagged DWF vessels. It is the largest longline tuna exporter in the world. Nearly six years after articles have emerged about modern slavery in seafood supply chains progress has been slow, policies have been largely disappointing, and good practice continues to be the exception rather than the norm. Transparency remains elusive as most companies have yet to take the step beyond policies and processes to reporting on negative impacts and their remediation, says Andy Chen.

Contributing risk factors of human trafficking and forced labour onboard fishing boats (kiEJF)

The US report is not the first to flag this problem. Last year, a report published by the Businesses & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), an international corporate watchdog, noted that only 4 of the world’s 35 largest tuna retail brands said they conducted due diligence with the specific aim of uncovering modern slavery in their Pacific supply chains. Of the 35 brands surveyed by BHRRC, 20 percent claimed to have mapped out their supply chains in full, and only 8% said that they required their subcontractors to enforce their modern anti-slavery policies throughout their supply chains.

Slavery is allowing fishing fleets to go further and to be at sea for longer periods than normal, good practice labour policies and management would permit. This also allows IUU fishing to occur because the crew cannot divulge what is happening.  Shannon Service, the co-director of Ghost Fleet, a multiple-award winning documentary about slavery in the Thai fishing industry says, “Slavery is the Achilles’ heel of overfishing — these boats went further and further from shore and they needed a labour force. So human traffickers stepped into the gap and started selling people.”

But new tech is bringing optimism that men being held captive on large fishing vessels may be identified. A report from Liberty Shares demonstrates how trends in satellite data may indicate a vessel is fishing illegally and harboring slaves. Those involved in the use of technology are confident that globally tracking ships and using machine learning to identify suspicious behaviour by vessels can help prevent and crackdown on slavery and other illegal activities at sea.

In response to the growing concern in the fishing sector, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has developed a 5 year, holistic, multifaceted and integrated programme “Global Action Programme against forced labour and trafficking of fishers at sea” (GAPfish). The ILO has warned that forced labour in the fisheries sector is frequently linked to other forms of transnational organized fisheries crime. The term “fisheries crime” has recently appeared in the context of emerging practical responses against offences committed within the fisheries sector, which puts these practices fairly and squarely on the radar of the UN and many international and intergovernmental organisations.

But Francisco Blaha, an expert I correspond with, warns that the labour failures on fishing boats are governance failures. The reasons are complicated and multidimensional, so one has to be wary of simple solutions. Fixes do require a toolbox approach, not just a hammer, Blaha says. The toolbox includes safe and decent labour conditions based on ILO standards as part of the licensing conditions, crew change (who, when, where get in and out of a vessel) then stop (or tightly control transhipment at sea). Then implement Port State Measures, flag state responsibility standards, and the more diplomatic tools, he says.

The sad and awful truth of forced labour in tuna fisheries has finally emerged into the limelight. The US List is another big step forward towards possible solutions. I know that awareness of this problem has been raised with people in government departments and private sector in Seychelles, people who wouldn’t normally be thinking about slavery on fishing vessels. This makes me optimistic that when government officials board Asian longliners they would be viewing the crew through a different lens than I did back in the ’80s.

I don’t know how to replace tourism as the main funding source for conservation. Do you?

As someone who runs a #conservation organisation and a #protectedarea, I am so fed-up of all the Professors and “experts” who tell us we have to find new models to fund conservation since COVID-19 collapsed everything. They tell us we shouldn’t have relied so much on #tourism, but yet have never come up with alternative models. It all sounds so facile – issue a green or blue bond here, set up an endowment fund there, persuade the government to roll out a new deal for the environment. I have read many blogs and papers and attended innumerable webinars since the COVID-19 crisis started but still have no clue how to replace tourism as our primary unrestricted funding source. We have had NO revenues since end of March this year. We’ve knocked on all doors but we’re on our own. Yet Cousin Island Special Reserve is a highly effective and award winning national land and sea Protected Area. We can’t manage surveillance and anti poaching patrols and our long term monitoring programs will end once we run out of money to pay our Conservation Manager. So much for funds available for marine protection.

Finally the #WWF has had the courage to admit they are as clueless as we are. They have launched an innovation challenge to discover and incubate new revenue models that do not depend on tourism, but still enable local communities in Africa to derive income from wildlife, manage their natural resources sustainably and improve their collective wellbeing. WWF is looking for innovative concepts, ideas, revenue or finance models that can generate sustained benefits for rural communities from wildlife conservation, beyond tourism. They are not calling for investment-ready proposals, but for ideas with high potential that might be developed during the incubation programme. But what about institutions like Nature Seychelles? Hmmm! Left behind again!!

Cousin Island Special Reserve had “the perfect marriage between tourism and conservation” until COVID-19 instigated a sudden divorce.

Construction on remote islands made easier with 3-D printed blocks from local soil.

Shipping construction materials to small, fragile islands like Cousin Island Special Reserve is a major headache. The logistics involved in freighting and landing heavy stuff like concrete bricks in an archepelagic state like Seychelles sometimes surpass the ability of the most seasoned mariner.

Now there may be light at the end of the tunnel: researchers report progress toward a sustainable building material made from local soil, using a 3-D printer to create a load-bearing structure. An advantage to using local soil in construction is that the materials would not need to be manufactured and transported to the building site, reducing both costs and environmental damage.

Globally, the construction industry is currently facing two major challenges: the demand for sustainable infrastructure and the need to repair deteriorating buildings, bridges and roads. While concrete is the material of choice for many construction projects, it has a large carbon footprint, resulting in high waste and energy expenditure. We are eagerly awaiting the commercial application of this new technology.

Landing craft stuck on the beach of Cousin Island Special Reserve after delivering construction materials for repair of Reserve infrastructure

An amazing conservation site is hiding in plain sight

The best kept secrets are not always found in hidden papers or on the net

The secret conservation area

Seychelles has been an acclaimed champion of protected areas. From the nature reserves enacted in the 1960’s to the new marine protected areas (MPAs) legislated this year dedicating 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conservation. What is rarely talked about are the other sites that are not legally protected but are being managed for conservation, in a few cases perhaps more effectively so than some of the legislated ones.

An outstanding example is the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman (SARC), an award-winning conservation site. This is the only managed urban wetland in Seychelles.  The original site was heavily degraded, part of coastal reclamation that was undertaken for various development projects. Over 20 years Nature Seychelles has re-engineered this site to be a model of a fully functioning coastal wetland in Seychelles. It is a location which is an outdoor classroom for hundreds of  children every year, an attraction for tourists, a site where we have undertaken our Green Health program which has helped busy executives to substance abusers, and a vital green lifebelt which harbours biodiversity, absorbs carbon and acts a a large sponge and filter for runoff from hard urban infrastructure all around. 

The SARC is not formally protected although it is designated as a Sensitive Area under the Environment Protection Act. It is what is known as an Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measure (OECM). An OECM is a conservation designation for areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) says it is a “geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values” (CBD, 2018).

An OECM  like the SARC offers a huge opportunity to increase recognition and support for effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside the legally designated protected areas. There is much for even protected areas managers to learn from an OECM like the SARC. For example, Nature Seychelles has restored and is managing this area without any government funds despite it being owned by the state. The Wetlands unit of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change has never included the SARC in any wetland programs, events or projects. The time has come for the SARC and others like it to emerge from the shadows of their better known and more glamorous cousins, the Special Reserves, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

An Indian Ocean El Niño may appear soon.

An Indian Ocean El Niño could appear in the next 30 years, according to new research. The Indian Ocean exeriences small climate swings from year to year as the prevailing winds blow gently from west to east and maintains stable ocean conditions. The research says global warming could reverse the direction of these winds, destabilizing the ocean and tipping the climate into warming and cooling wings similar to El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. The result coukd be new climate extremes across the region, including disruption of the monsoons over East Africa, islands like Seychelles and India

The EU brings back subsidies for its fishing fleets. Is this the end of our tuna?

Coastal nations of the Indian Ocean be worried, be very worried. On Thursday 4th of April, members of the European Parliament agreed to bring back fisheries subsidies, despite the risk of massively increasing overexploitation of fish stocks

The Le Monde newspaper says that with the fisheries subsidies worth about 6 billion Euros, the European Parliament has jeopardized the commitments made 15 years ago to combat excessive fishing in the EU

However, for us in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO), where 40% of the EU catch of tuna comes from, this may mean the end of our tuna stocks. Currently, the EU strategy at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission in terms of tuna allocations, if successful, will be devastating to WIO coastal nations particularly Seychelles

The new subsidies will help build newer, larger and more efficient fishing vessels that will now come to our waters and harvest our fish even faster than in previous years. The subsidies may possibly also assist fishing boats which are engaged in illegal fishing but perhaps more likely incentivise some fisheries activities which may not be strictly illegal but are shadowy in terms of evading quotas and national enforcement. And who watches the EU which has been accused of neo-colonial approaches to tuna fisheries

The yellowfin tuna stock is in deep trouble according to scientific estimates The deployment of thousands of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS) by EU fleets leads to juvenile fish (which like to aggregate under floating objects) getting caught The subsidies will make FAD- fishing even more efficient, vacuuming even more juvenile fish out of our Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

Its been well known that most subsidies lead to more and more boats chasing less and less fish. This practice has been condemned by all international and environmental organisations Recent studies have shown that without government subsidies, industrial fishing would be unprofitable

The European Union has been working for years with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) so that member states reach an agreement on the elimination of fishing subsidies harmful to marine resources Why then this sudden volte face?

Furthermore, in 2015, the EU committed itself to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including the Ocean Goal, Goal 14. Target 14.6 of this Goal states that by 2020 we must “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies” Is the EU sincere in its international commitments?

The decision is a “dramatic backwards step”, said Andrea Ripol, fisheries policy officer at Seas At Risk. “Allocating taxpayers’ money to directly finance the construction of new vessels or the replacement of engines is counter-productive. This will fuel fisheries’ overcapacity, exacerbating the overfishing problem, without any guarantee of delivering any public good”

With this latest move the EU Parliament has sent exactly the wrong message to the rest of the world: we don’t care what you do to protect your marine resources because we are giving billions of Euros to Europeans so its easier for them to come and take what’s left of your fish. What are we in Seychelles going to do?

Big row over certification of Indian Ocean Tuna fishery

A row has erupted between the Marine Stewardship Council and environmental & sustainable fishing groups regarding MSC certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean tuna purse seine fishery. The purse skipjack fishery obtained Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, weeks after an independent adjudicator paved the way for the process to move forward,

After the adjudicator’s ruling, the WWF said it was “most concerned” with what it called a “flawed” process. WWF says its objections were made on the following grounds: “although the Echebastar fishery targets skipjack tuna, a major portion of its catch is yellowfin tuna which is already overfished and for which no harvest strategy exists in the Indian Ocean (moreover, the effectiveness of rebuilding measures for yellowfin tuna stocks has not been assessed); the fishery uses fish aggregating devices (FADs) which increase the catch of non-target species and diminish the populations of already threatened ocean wildlife, including sharks; and that the management plans to reduce the mortality of sharks – particularly silky sharks – are inadequate”. For these reasons, WWF says its recommending that “seafood buyers should not consider this fishery as meeting the sufficient standard of environmental performance for MSC certification”,

Two other groups, the International Pole and Line Foundation and the Shark Project, withdrew from the MSC process in September over the Echebastar fishery and said they would formally complain to the MSC,

Going Deep: a new strategy for saving Seychelles.

Can our society prepare for a world in which global warming threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval? What are the policy and social implications of rapid, and mostly unpleasant, climate disruption? These and other similar questions, once perhaps the preserve of fringe thinkers, are being seriously discussed by scientists,

Seychelles, like all Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with miniscule amounts of emissions and therefore no opprtunity to mitigate climate change, has taken the adaptation route. Adaptation and Mitigation are the two ways countries an deal with climate change. Adaptation is where a country or community attempts to put in place strategies, activities and infrastructure to blunt the inevitable impacts of climate change – including building set-back lines, restoration of ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves, harvesting rain water, building seawalls, and so forth.

But some forward-thinking scientists are going further, calling for what has been termed the “deep adaptation” agenda. Dr. Jem Bendell of the University of Cumbria, U.K who is credited with having made the term “deep adaptation” popular, calls it an integrated suite of changes— such as pulling back from the coast, closing climate-exposed industrial facilities, planning for food rationing, letting landscapes return to their natural state—coupled with cultural shifts, including “giving up expectations for certain types of consumption” and learning to rely more on the people around us.

The size of Seychelles – the smalness of everything including the economy, population, habitable area and infrastructure – makes it ultra-sensitive to shocks. Perturbations that wouldn’t even tickle larger nations rattle our society.

Mainstream adaption strategies are not really working. Climate change is beating us despite our best efforts. The government, private sector and civil society in Seychelles must come together very urgently to prepare for deep adaptation. The changes to be made in both mind-set and development strategies will by necessity be drastic. The population has to be prepared and the most vulnerable have to have protection.

The urgency cannot be exaggerated because the problem is worsening at an accelerating rate. In a new paper climate scientists say that the planet may be very close to locking in what they call a “hothouse” trajectory—warming of 4C or 5C (7F or 9F), “with serious challenges for the viability of societies.”