Work to establish a harvest system and management plan for octopus fishery in Seychelles continues with the aim of making local supply more consistent.
A value chain, which is the mapping of the octopus from the sea to the plates, has been finalised following a workshop in December, where people involved in octopus fisheries and production got an overview of the recent studies undertaken.
An assessment of the value chain was commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and undertaken by Seychelles consultant Dr Ameer Ebrahim.
Seventy-five key stakeholders in the octopus fishery, including fishermen, processors, middlemen and buyers, took part in the survey held from November to December 2023.
The survey brought forth that Seychellois are affected by competition from imported octopus and the main sources are the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Vietnam, Spain, Morocco and India.
Ebrahim said that Seychelles currently imports an average of four tonnes of octopus per month.
The issue of a consistent supply is one of the reasons why some hotels are purchasing more imported octopus and 44 percent of the participants in the survey were of the view that the supply of the local fishery of octopus is not consistent.
|Ibrahim (first left) with South African consultants. (Ameer Ibrahim) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
According to the existing data from 1980 to 2021, on average Seychelles harvest 35 tonnes of octopus per year and Ebrahim confirmed that in the recent study, they have found 193 tonnes of octopus being caught on average per year in Seychelles.
“These estimates are fairly accurate. This is because SFA [Seychelles Fishing Authority] is only monitoring catch at the landing site, but many fishers sell their octopus directly to middlemen, restaurants and hotels and this statistic is not accounted for,” said Ebrahim.
There are three main middlemen for octopuses in Seychelles, one from Praslin, the second most populated island, and two from Mahe, the main island. Sales data was collected from the major companies and middlemen dealing with octopus.
Ebrahim said, “The 193 tonnes did not take into consideration the recreational and informal sector. Further research in the informal sector is needed to get more accurate data.”
Since 2023, the SFA embarked on a socio-economic and biological study to develop the octopus fishery management plan.
The SFA head of fisheries research, Rodney Govinden, said a baseline report was produced after the survey in which 35 interviews were done with fishermen from Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.
The main idea was to find out how many of them depend on this fishery and information about their revenue.
“We have interviewed mostly registered fishers and we haven’t got much information with recreational fishery but are still trying to get them included,” said Govinden.
|SFA confirms that they are doing a data collection trial with the fishers. (Ameer Ibrahim) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
It was highlighted in the study that the local drug addiction issue has created an informal fishery that is impacting the life of commercial fishermen.
Ebrahim pointed out that “on La Digue island some fishers are using destructive methods such as the use of bleach to drag out the octopuses from their holes and this method is harmful to the corals.”
Coral reefs are important for octopuses as they spend most of their lives inside holes in the reefs and feed on the crustaceans and fish that are in abundance on a healthy reef.
According to Dr Ebrahim, SFA statistics have shown that there have been records of a decline in octopus catches over the past few decades.
Based on the survey conducted with 75 stakeholders, 49 percent said that in the past 5-10 years the octopus catch has decreased.
“The issue of depleting stock is a cause for alarm but not all is lost because octopus is very easy to manage. The short life cycle of the species from larvae to adult and death is approximately 18 months to 2 years,” said Ebrahim.
He believes that if SFA can identify when the octopus reproduces and lays eggs, a management plan can be put in place.
Ebrahim says that this study is very important because it provides more information about the biology and the second aspect of features of the octopus that needs to be taken into consideration for management.
Going forward, the stakeholders pointed out the need to introduce a licence framework to better manage the octopus fishery in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean.
“Internally the stakeholders have been meeting with SFA to see how they will draft the licence framework and finalise it by March,” Karyss Auguste, assistant manager from licence and permit section at SFA.
Fishermen also requested that a tax on importation of octopus is implemented and Vincent Lucas, head of department fisheries resources management and technical coordination at SFA, said this will have to be discussed in consultations before any decisions can be made.
Ebrahim also talked about the necessity of having a minimum size limit, which is a common measure across the western Indian Ocean, where the catchable size is 500g and anything smaller than that should be released.
SFA confirms that they are doing a data collection trial with the fishers.
“There is a logbook that has been designed and fishermen who are willing to participate to collect accurate information about their catch can request for that logbook,” said Goviden.
SFA is also establishing a habitat and biological survey to determine the distribution of octopus in the main fishing ground.
“Through interviews, we ask fishermen which areas they go fishing and which area they focus on. This information will help SFA and the consultant develop a survey in the common areas and later develop a survey which will facilitate monitoring in the future,” added Govinden.