Introduction

The unique characteristics and opportunities within the western Indian Ocean are finally being exploited, after many decades of conservative commentary and misplaced concern. Although there were several local and regional fisheries for tropical tunas in the western Indian Ocean that have been operating for periods often exceeding written history, none of these had developed to any remarkable degree because of the types of gear being used, and the long distances from landing ports to processing facilities and markets.

The background history behind the development of the western Indian Ocean tuna fishery, particularly within and about the Seychelles Plateau, is unique and worthy of documentation, even though that development is still ongoing. For various reasons this particular fishery thrives, while development efforts in other ocean areas over recent decades have been marginal; some have even regressed. It began in parallel with several similar, but less successful, efforts.

During the last two decades, there have been several national efforts to develop nearshore fisheries for tunas. Projects have mostly been effective only at locating resources, but have not been very effective at transferring technology needed to extend fishing grounds into open ocean areas. Projects have come and gone from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Somalia, Zanzibar, Madagascar and, recently, the Maldives and the Seychelles (Fig. 16.1). The latter two have been most successful, but for very different reasons.

Fig. 16.1 The Seychelles Plateau is one of the world's largest tropical open ocean shoals, comprising 48,334 km2 with many small islands. The capital of the Seychelles is Victoria, Mahe, where the infrastructure developments related to this fishery have been centered.

The Maldivian and the Seychellois cultures are distinct and unique. Yet, they have somehow succeeded in accommodating to the developments of the recent decade's opportunities within the tough, competitive framework of global tuna markets and infrastructure requirements. This cultural accommodation is in sharp contrast to many of the other ventures.

Since the early 1970s, the long-line fleets of Japan and other Asian countries have been in constant flux, as the values of products have changed, and as problems of labor costs and recruitment of fishermen to these fleets have evolved along with national economies. While the value of both fresh and flash-frozen sashimi-grade products has increased dramatically, the costs of fishing and product delivery (e.g., air freight) have also undergone significant changes.

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