The lobster harvesting season in Seychelles is facing challenges posed by unlicensed fishers and the catching of undersized species, the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) said, while fishers say the sea has been rough and demand lower than usual because of the COVID-19 travel downturn.
The season, which is open from December 21, 2020, through March 21, 2021, allows licensed fishers to harvest lobsters, but with conditions. The chief fisheries officer at SFA, Vincent Lucas, said that the conditions are necessary to ensure the replenishment of stock of the four species of lobsters currently found in Seychelles’ waters.
“So far, the main constraints encountered during open season is that fishers are harvesting individuals that are below the legal minimum landing size of 7.5cm carapace length and the harvesting of females bearing eggs,” said Lucas.
According to the officer “the size of 7.5 cm is considered as the size of maturity for lobsters, hence capturing them before they reach this minimum size, deprived them of the opportunity to reproduce to replenish the stock. Similarly, the catching of egg-bearing female lobster limits the stock from replenishing.”
Lucas explained that to ensure compliance the authority has issued licensed fishers with lobster gauges that will allow them to easily determine whether a lobster is above or below the minimum size. Lobsters below the minimum size and berried females – female with eggs – must be released back into the sea.
Lobster harvesting season in Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean – is open for three months every two years. The season was closed for 2017 and 2018 and reopened in 2019.
The four local species of lobsters are the long-legged spiny lobster, the pronghorn spiny lobster, the ornate spiny lobster and the painted spiny lobster. The long-legged spiny lobster and the pronghorn spiny lobster are the most-caught species. Last season, which ended in March 2020, 4,500kg of the pronghorn spiny lobster were caught.
The four main species found in Seychelles. (Ministry of Fisheries) Photo License: CC-BY
Only a handful of people are given the licenses for each season. Once the license is issued a contract is signed and if there is a breach the fisher loses their $236 deposit and can face a fine of $945.
“The licenses have underlying conditions that the fishers need to abide by. These include a limit on the number of divers – four divers per license holder – and harvest operation are not to be done in protected areas. For licensees using traps, a maximum of six traps are permitted,” explained Lucas.
Two fishers amongst the 13 who got licenses this season told SNA that whilst they understand the regulations for harvesting and they do see the need for compliance to ensure sustainability, SFA should look at extending the season.
“The season opened in December and it is only on January 20 that I could go out as the weather is very bad. It rains heavily and the sea is very very rough, making it impossible to go,” said Dyan Charles. Charles added that though demand was there for the delicacy over the festive season, bad weather prevented them from working.
Another fisher, Guy Estrale, said that the authority should relook at the time to open the season. “I think the season should open in February, March and April when the sea is calmer.”
Both fishers said that if the period of the season, is not revised fishers will run at a loss, especially now that their main clients, most hotels and restaurants, are closed due to COVID-19.
Estrale and Charles also said that apart from overfishing, climate change is also a big threat to the viability of lobsters. However, both have seen the benefits of closing the season as they say they can see an increase in the lobster’ population once the season reopens.