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Mr. Cyril Bonnelame was recently appointed as Chairman of SFA. Only this week he was also appointed as its interim CEO. Having been on several boards and managed different companies, he has the necessary baggage to take on the huge task.

According to him fisheries should be made the first pillar of our economy than tourism and finances which are the two other pillars.
He added that as we have found out through the Coronavirus pandemic, tourism cannot be relied upon too heavily because we do not have control over who visit our islands, when and how many.
There have been set-backs in the Financial sector as well because it is controlled by powerful nations which can apply sanctions every now and then. In the case of fisheries, things are totally different. Our fish are in our waters and it is us who decide what to do with them.
During an interview with our newspaper this week, Mr. Bonnelame outlined his plans for the years ahead and made his comments on what he sees happening in the industry at the moment.

The People: Mr. Bonnelame, congratulations on your new post as Chairman of the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) and recently also as its interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO). How are you seeing this transition from a private company Oceana to SFA, especially as there is common interest- fisheries?

Cyril: For me there is no difference, because being the Chairman of SFA or its CEO is like running a company as any other. We have shareholders who are the people of Seychelles. We have Board Members who look after funds belonging to the people of Seychelles. Then we have the company itself which is SFA and its team. So, for me it is a natural start because I am working with a team that is well qualified.
Unfortunately for some time it was without a CEO and as you know when there is no captain on board a ship, then it drifts a little bit, but everything is now in place. We have a Board that is dynamic, but we must include more people who are directly connected with fishing on it.
Our interaction with the government is fine. When the President called me and asked me if I could bring my support in that sector, I willingly accepted. I met with Minister Charles Bastienne and we discussed a work plan as we have been used to doing together during last three years when I was at Oceana Fisheries and he became the new Minister for agriculture and fisheries. So, for me it was a natural transition and my experience in the fishing industry made things even easier.

The People: You take the position at a rather interesting time- with the recent announcement of a ban on exportation of Red Snapper to allow the Seychellois to be able to afford it. What is your view on the President’s announcement? Are there more of such decisions to come?

Cyril: I believe there will have to be other announcements in that direction. It is in the plan of the government to start aqua-culture in the country and Red Snapper is only one of the species that will be cultivated.
The local market however is not big enough to take all those Red Snappers and other species. There will have to be other explanations with regards to how everything will be managed following the ban on export of those fish.

The People: The Indian Ocean Tuna (IOT) has improved the quality of its products. For instance, we are seeing an improved canned tuna for domestic use.
Do you welcome such move and what does it say for the local market as in the past such quality was seen with canned tuna only on supermarket stands in Europe?

Cyril: Better products on our shelves is very welcoming but their prices also ought to be affordable for us. Value-added products from our tuna is also something good, but unfortunately at the moment we have only cans.
We have about 400’000 tons of tuna caught in our waters every year, so there is scope enough to expand the market locally and have enough value- added products to export overseas. It will bring more money into our economy.

The People: Fisheries is one of the main pillars of the Seychelles economy. How do we make that visible for the people to see ? With tourism we see increased arrivals and more hotels and guesthouses blooming all over the islands- how do we measure growth or success in fisheries?

Cyril: I will answer your question in two ways. Probably SFA needs to dish out more information locally and overseas on what it is actually doing. This is an area which needs to be improved. The information is there. We just need to put together a team to make it available to all interested partners and the general public.
As we know in the tourism sector everything is well publicized. Everybody knows what is happening.
We have three pillars of our economy. They are tourism, fisheries and finances. Look at what is happening with the issues of Coronavirus. We cannot force anyone to visit our country. With regards to finances, it is not that reliable as we are at times sanctioned by global powers.
But our fish are in our waters and belong to us. We have Seychellois who are investing in fisheries. What the government, policy setters and SFA should do is work to put the industry at the level it is supposed to be. I personally believe that fisheries should become the first pillar of our economy.
One question that has always bugled my mind from the very day I joined the fishing industry until today is this one: How can Mauritius raise much more money from our tuna than us ? Our tuna is transshipped to Mauritius, but the country is able to extract much more value- added products out of it and then sell on markets in Europe and Asia. We can’t.
This is an area where we have to work with Seychellois and give them the chance to rip maximum profit out of what we can consider as our gold. We do not have any other gold. Even our beautiful landscape is of no use during the period of Coronavirus.
We have 1.4 million square kilometres of water to fish in and we must make the most of it. The government has always wanted to see it happen, but it hasn’t yet happened. Based on what the world is going through today, we must find ways to make it happen.

The People: What is the fisheries sector contributing to the economy annually?

Cyril: I was surprised to learn about the contribution the tourism industry was making in the economy as compared to fisheries. I will not give any figure because those figures are not yet clear even to me personally. I will need more time to examine those figures and understand what they mean exactly. The amount stated as having entered the country do not necessary means that all of it belongs to the Seychelles Government and its people. There are components that belong to foreign partners.

The People: There was an issue about fishing vessels not contributing enough as they are not only depleting our resources but making a lot of money off our fish, especially tuna. What is your take on this?

Cyril: I will lay out a scenario that you will find easy to understand. If I come to your house and ask for 4 mangoes. You let me know that I can have only 2 mangoes. I cannot tell you that I will be taking 10 mangoes instead.
What is happening today is that people are using past figures and are maintaining the same quota as before. The problem here is that another country cannot impose its prices in our Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ).
There is a lack of clarity over the whole issue. The authorities are presently discussing. It is true that by nature, tuna is a pelagic fish and a migratory species.
The tunas can go to Somalia, Mozambique and later come back to the waters of Seychelles. Someone can argue that the tunas are not ours when they are not in our waters. Fine ! . But when they are in our waters, they are ours. When they leave our shores, it is something else.
Another thing that I do not yet fully understand. Seychelles is paid between 85 to 90 US dollars or its equivalent in Euro per ton of tuna. It is what I have found out.
When I speak to a Spaniard involved in the business, he told me that he sells the same ton of tuna for 2000 Euros on the market where he goes.
There is a huge difference between those two amounts. Obviously, I will have to consult experts so as to understand certain things. Perhaps there are other issues that come in between. But presently I am yet to understand the difference.
We must be able to reap more benefits from our tuna. Firstly, by negotiating for a better deal with boat-owners who fish in our waters. Secondly by creating more value-added products from our tuna.

The People: How about a fleet of Seychellois owned fishing vessels- operated and run by the SFA?

Cyril: I will have to be realistic. It costs a lot of money to operate purse-seiners. At this point in our economy, I don’t think we have the resources to do it. But however, we cannot look at only one way of doing things. There are different ways of doing things and at the end obtain the same result. There are many boats fishing in many places across the world every day.
Seychelles can enter into an agreement with some of those boatowners as a form of charter. Another way of doing it is for our country to rent the boats, but the boatowners have to find their own crew. Then they come to fish in our waters. If for example 2,000 tons of tuna are caught, then it is evenly split between the two partners. We can then later sell own 1,000 tons of tuna for 2,000 Euros per ton as the Spaniard said he was doing. It would be a lot better than 85 to 90 US US dollars per ton that we are presently getting.
If we buy our own purse seiners which are very expensive and later we cannot find Seychellois to work on them, it will be a loss. When I was at Oceana Fisheries, it was in the plan of the company was to have 15 long-liners. There would have been 22 crew members on each one of those boats.
On the first one, there was 12 Seychellois. On the second, there were 4, on the third and the rest that followed there were none. We cannot put another cost burden on us and later hand over most of the small profit to foreigners. If today you go at the Providence fishing port, for every Seychellois you will find at least four Sri Lankans.
I have nothing against Sri Lankans, but we cannot rely on foreigners for us to eat and survive. Our own people have to invest and work in that industry for the country to better prosper. I understand why SFA has to employ foreigners.
At Oceana Fisheries, we also employed Indonesians. It is because we couldn’t find enough Seychellois to work on the boats. If you have made an investment, you must ensure that at least you can repay your loan and make your project work. But unfortunately, our own people are letting us down. Many local investors have had very viable plans in the past and even now, but they then have to employ foreigners to make their businesses succeed.

The People: What are your plans for the future- the President must have seen your ability to transform SFA and also the fisheries sector?

Cyril:There are many challenges in the fisheries sector. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities. We must face those challenges which are not unsurmountable.
They can be addressed. We must educate our people on the resources at our disposal and make them see that there are lots of opportunities and prospect in the fishing industry. We have to also educate them on sustainability so that we can protect the industry and ensure that there are enough fishes for our population to consume. We must protect our future and that of our children and grandchildren.
We must exploit tuna caught in our waters even more through getting more through direct payment and also through making value-added products ourselves. My plan is to put fishing on an upward track and make it the number one revenue earning industry in the country.
Since I’ve taken the chairmanship of SFA, I’ve talked to so many people to understand the challenges they are facing. It is important to understand that. Now I will sit with the Board to see what needs to be done.
I have to say that I will be happy to include new people who are directly involved in the industry on it.
I would like to hear all views. I do not want to criticize anyone who have been here before me. We all have something to say on the experiences we have gone through. Everyone has his or her own wish list, but not everything can be implemented. If we listen to all views in the spirit of Seychelles first, we will make it.
We must work in unity to prevent foreigners from benefiting with our resources instead of us doing it ourselves. If we don’t do it now, the day we decide to work in unity, all the resources would by then have been gone. Probably the next time we meet for another interview the industry would have been better than it is today.

The People: Have you met with the President? If yes, what is his vision for this sector?

Cyril: Yes, I have met him. The day when he approached me, he told me that he knew how I work. He had in the past appointed me as a member of different boards that are difficult and he was satisfied with how I performed.
I, in turn told him that it was my way of working. But now he has to tell me what he would like to see happening in the industry. Then I will sit down with a team to see how we can make it happen, through the corresponding ministry and its guiding policies. We are paid to find solutions and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

The People: In charting a way forward for one important sector in terms of revenue collection- what is your message to the industry?

Cyril: My message is for us to exploit opportunities. We have lots of potentials. I love to consult others and if we sit together and discuss the way forward, we will be able to feed future generations of Seychellois and ensure sustainability of resources found in our waters. Every partner involved with the industry should walk away satisfied because he or she would have reaped a profit. All involved in the circle should benefit and not only one at the expense of another.

 

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