Apr 2021 Interview with Jean-François Ferrari Designated Minister for Fisheries and the Blue Economy, Seychelles
Prisma Reports (PR): You have recently been appointed Minister of Fisheries and Blue Economy. What are the key priorities and challenges of your new post?
H.E. Mr. Jean-François Ferrari (JF): When President Ramkalawan took office, he expressed a need for a senior minister who would be dedicated full-time to the development and consolidation of the fisheries. That person is me, and as requested, my focus is wholly concentrated on our Fisheries and the Blue Economy. For far too long, not enough emphasis was put on the fishing business. It came second to tourism. Obviously, tourism will remain the lead industry for the years to come. It is well developed, and all the infrastructure is in place, so there is no doubt that tourism will remain our primary industry. However, we are now fervently building up the infrastructure and opening the space for investment in the fishing industry. I see my job as crucial, and I hope to energise the sector and bring leadership so that we have genuine, permanent, and sustainable development in that area.
(PR): Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the fisheries sector has shrunk by 39% in Q2 2020. What policies and instruments are being used to mitigate the crisis?
(JF): The fishing industry depends heavily on the tourism industry. It is a symbiotic relationship. When tourism does well, fishing does well because most of our artisanal fishery is geared towards supplying the tourism industry. When the tourism industry collapsed, this aspect of the fisheries business collapsed with it. For the short term we pushed hard to develop some export markets regionally especially in the Gulf States and further south in Mauritius. We have opened some new markets to sustain the local fisheries.
As for the medium and long term, we are very keen to develop value-addition in the seafood processing industries. To be clear, it is not that we want to fish more. We want to fish the same amount, but we want to get better value out of this fantastic product. Tuna from the Indian Ocean is one of the most nutritious and tasty foods. There are opportunities beyond just canning, through value-adding and exporting to new markets. The pandemic has caused suffering, but we have reacted quickly. A dedicated investor is providing financing to help us develop the sector, so we are moving towards better value for this precious resource.
(PR): How are you tackling the issue of letting the world know about the supreme quality of the Seychellois fish?
(JF): In the same vein of giving equal opportunity and emphasis to the Blue Economy as tourism has traditionally had, I have identified one of the most experienced tourism marketing executives and invited him to come and market our fish. This person will soon be joining my Ministry, and his mission will be to discover new markets and develop a premium label with us that will promote our fish as a high-quality and delicious product. We want to get it right and make sure that we have all the local infrastructure that will allow us to handle the fish in the best possible conditions so that when we export this valuable commodity, it complies with the cold chains, quality control, and all the standards of the demanding markets. Europe is one of our target markets and the rules are tight, so we need to get it right. There is a strict quality control process underway to be ready to hopefully supply new markets by midyear.
(PR): The involvement of the private sector is one of your main focuses. How are you encouraging more investments in the industry?
(JF): I am doing everything I can to involve the private sector in the development of value-adding and local fish processing. I cannot repeat this enough: we do not want to fish more. We want to do better with what we fish. In December, the cabinet of Ministers approved the designation of a fish processing zone that had been discussed for a long time. It has finally been officially designated, and since then we have called for expressions of interest from both local and foreign investors. The response was particularly good, and we shortlisted the most serious ones last week. A firm and decisive push is being made to allocate land and deliver on infrastructure so that these investments can take place. There are serious constraints that we will have to be overcome, such as providing electricity, roads and access, and water treatment services, which is a key component in the fish processing chain. There is a vitality and excitement involved that is necessary to get this done quickly but efficiently. We have appealed to our local and overseas partners from the past and newly incorporated, to help us fund these infrastructure developments. I am delighted that there is a great deal of interest. I expect we will have a fantastic commercial and industrial zone in just a couple of years where we will be delivering on the premium fish that we promised.
(PR): In a recent visit to the Department of economy, you encouraged the strengthening of the cooperation with international organization for renewed focus on the blue economy (BE). How is this moving forward and are there any specific countries that you are targeting?
(JF): Our historical and most valuable partner, with whom we have been in business together for nearly 40 years, is the European Union. I call them our privilege partners. Our government would like to build on this relationship even further. We are hoping to discover novel ways in which to improve our agreements so that we are more of a commercial partner, rather than just a cooperative partner. Although this will happen naturally with the value-adding plans that are in motion, I was quite vocal about our position in the first Joint Committee meeting where we reviewed the new agreement. We reviewed the use of what the agreement calls the sectoral support fund, which is the money received that should go towards the fishery sector development, and both sides are satisfied with the way things are moving. Close ties are also being fostered with the Gulf countries. We have a special and friendly relationship with the governments in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and other closer neighbours that we hope will help us in investing in infrastructure. We are also eager to work with Japan in developing new projects and bringing back Japanese fishing vessels.
(PR): Where would you like to see the Seychelles fisheries industry in the next 5 to 10 years?
(JF): One of our major focuses is the sustainability of the stock. Seychelles has nothing to hide. At times we have been accused of overfishing and of not respecting the environment. Seychelles is the country in the Indian Ocean that is the most respectful of rules, does the best reporting, and is the most transparent in terms of fisheries management. Without fish in the ocean, we do not have a fisheries industry, so sustainability is our number one priority. It is our aim to manage production respectfully and responsibly, and we call on our partners to do the same.
Another key aim of ours is to lessen the economy’s dependency on tourism. Seychelles was traumatised by the COVID-19 pandemic because in losing the tourism business, our debt to GDP ratio went up from 55% to 99% within weeks. There is just no more margin for loss. This urgency for diversification is why we are putting so much effort on the fisheries industry. Over the next few years, the fisheries industry will have taken a larger share of the economic responsibility in the country. We will be doing much more value-adding in Port Victoria. It is not that we will move away from canning, but in parallel we will add other kinds of product lines. I see a bright future for the fisheries industry. I am confident that in the future we will have a fantastic premium product that we can export around the world, while at the same time protect our resource and keep fishing clean and vibrant for many hundreds of years to come.