Past, present and future perspectives


The EEZ associated with the Western Indian Ocean Islands extends over more than 2 106 km2, an area larger than the state of California. This not only creates difficulties for administration and protection, but also for monitoring and regulation of fishing practices and harvesting rates (Brooks/Cole 1998). International regulations are in place to protect the interests of small island states, but resources are required for their monitoring and enforcement, as evidenced by the dramatic increase in reported catches by distant-water fishing nations during the 1990s (FAO 1997). Catches of non-target, endangered species, especially turtles, dolphins, and dugongs, are also cause for concern in the sub-region, as are the destructive practices of dynamite fishing, purse-seining and drag-netting.

Domestic fish catches in Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius grew steadily between 1975 and 1995, but have declined recently by up to 24 per cent (see Table 2c.1). This is in contrast with catches from other lowincome countries, reported to have increased by 4 per cent during the same period, and with world total catches which are reported to have grown by 8 per cent (UNEP 1999a, Commonwealth Secretariat 2000). The FAO believes that this stagnation of catch is a result of stocks being fully exploited, as there has been no reduction in fishing activities during this period (FAO 1997).

Table 2c.1 Marine fish catch in the Western Indian Ocean Islands (thousands of tonnes) 1975-97


Comoros Madagascar Mauritius Seychelles World Total
1975 3 850 19 020 7 038 3 950 NA
1990 12 200 NA 14 700 5 400 86 408
1995 13 200 85 463 16 933 7 000 91 558
1997 12 500 NA 13 700 5 300 93 329
UNEP 1999a: Commonwealth Secretariat 2000

Sustainable harvesting of coastal and marine resources in the Western Indian Ocean Islands

Control of overfishing requires elaborate marine regulatory facilities and surveillance, and lack of these has meant that compliance with regulations in the Western Indian Ocean Islands has been weak to date. However, measures have been introduced recently, including training of fishermen and provision of equipment to fish beyond the reef and in deep waters, to encourage regrowth of populations in coastal waters (UNEP 1999a). Legislation to outlaw turtle fishing and to protect the species has proved difficult to enforce and evaluation of the impact has been hindered by lack of specific data. National coral reef monitoring networks have been established, under the Indian Ocean Commission's Regional Environment Programme, with annual reporting on the state of the coral reef and its resources.

A festival of underwater film has also been held to promote awareness of the underwater world and the need for resource conservation. There are three nationally protected marine reserves in the Western Indian Ocean Islands where fishing activities are restricted, and one World Heritage Site (the Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles).