Mauritius: Farming in the sea (IPS)

| July 8, 2013

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Patrick Guiliano Marie looks on as a crowd of people jostle on the fish landing station in Grand Gaube, a village in northern Mauritius.

He shouts, “No fighting, please. Everybody will get their fish. Give us time to empty the crates and weigh today’s catch.” The crowd waits impatiently to buy fish harvested from cages out in the lagoon.

Mr. Marie is the leader of the St. Pierre Fish Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society. For seven months of the year, the Society’s members catch fish in the lagoon with hook and line. For the remaining five months, they harvest fish from cages.

Times have changed in Mauritius. A decade ago, fishers could simply cast their nets in the lagoon and catch as many fish as they wanted. Now, about 50 per cent of the fish that Mauritians eat is imported.

The outlook for fishers in Mauritius is uncertain. Mr. Marie says: “Our catches have now diminished because of industrial pollution. The recklessness of some fishers, who have been catching small fish over a number of years, has put the sustainability of the fish resources at stake.”

To cope with this uncertainty, he believes that young people can learn fish farming. Fish farming has been introduced to three sites in the ocean surrounding Mauritius. Two platforms have been set up in Grand Gaube’s lagoon, about 500 metres from the coast. Four underwater cages are attached to each platform.

In the cages, young fish feed on food pellets and seaweed collected from the lagoon. It takes eight months for the fish to grow to about 500 grams. Depending on the size of the cage, each produces between four and 25 tonnes of fish per year.

In February 2012, local fishers complained that an agreement between the European Union and Mauritius was making it difficult for them to earn a living. The treaty allows European vessels to catch 5,500 tonnes of fish a year for three years. Locals believe the agreement has led to a 50-60% reduction in their catch.

Nicolas Von Mally is the Mauritian Minister of Fisheries. He says that aquaculture was introduced to raise the living standard of some 2,200 traditional fishers who were finding it difficult to survive because of decreased fish stocks.

Mr. Von Mally explains: “Demand for seafood is increasing and thus pressure on marine resources is rising. In this regard, marine ranching can provide a worthwhile means to sustain marine resources in Mauritius.”

But not everyone is happy with the solution. Some fishers have observed that many predators, including sharks, roam around the floating cages, attracted by the great number of fish in one place.

Fish farming can also be bad for the environment. Vassen Kauppaymuthoo is an environmental engineer. He explains: “Too many fish in small spaces means a concentration of fish urine. The [feed] contains antimicrobials and antibiotics. This can harm the marine ecosystem.”

Judex Rampaul is the chairman of the local fisher’s union, the Syndicat Des Pêcheurs. He believes that fish farming is similar to industrial poultry farms.

Mr. Rampaul would prefer that the lagoon not be used for fish farming. He says, “The idea is also to help protect the lagoon, to let our sea breathe.”