Only half of the 24 fishing vessels of the Mozambique Tuna Company (Ematum) have been licensed so far, according to the Minister of the Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, Agostinho Mondlane, cited by the independent television station, STV.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, during a visit to the National Fisheries School, Mondlane said that last year only 12 of the Ematum boats were licensed to operate. He regarded the company as still being in an “experimental phase” in 2015 – hence the fact that the Ematum fleet only caught 300 tonnes of tuna last year (or just 25 tonnes per ship).
Mondlane did not explain the long delay in licensing, but was confident that the other 12 ships would be licensed this year, and that the total tuna catch in 2016 would go to over 3,000 tonnes. “This planned production is sustainable”, he claimed.
The Minister also did not say when Ematum will be able to participate in paying off its debts. In 2013 Ematum issued bonds for US$850 million on the European bond market. This was to purchase, from a shipyard in the French port of Cherbourg, the 24 fishing boats, and six coastal and marine protection vessels.
The boats, according to the French financial press of the time, cost 200 million euros (about US$230 million). It has never been clear how the remaining US$620 million was spent. Speaking in parliament in December 2013, the then fisheries minister, Victor Borges, mentioned such items as training, radars, satellite communications and on-shore installations, but gave no detailed breakdown.
The government guaranteed the Ematum bond, and last year said that US$500 million of the bond would be regarded as a Ministry of Defence responsibility, leaving Ematum to repay just US$350 million for the fishing assets.
In fact, Ematum is in no position to repay anything, and the entire burden of paying the bondholders thus falls on the government.
Ematum was not expected to show a profit in the first couple of years of operation. Even so, the company’s financial statements, published in May 2015, show alarmingly high losses. The accounts show that in 2014 Ematum made a loss of over 850.5 million meticais (about US$24.9 million). The accumulated losses, from 2013 up to December 2014 were 1.17 billion meticais. Ematum’s own funds were thus deeply in the red, at minus 1.16 billion meticais. So far there is no sign of any financial statements for 2015 – but 300 tonnes of tuna is nowhere near enough to put Ematum in the black.
Mondlane also said that the Mozambican prawn catch has declined dramatically in recent years. Prawns used to be a major export, and about a decade ago the prawn catch was around 10,000 tonnes a year. But the estimate for 2015 is a catch of just 2,516 tonnes.
Mondlane blamed this partly on illegal fishing and partly on the devastation of the country’s mangrove forests. Coastal communities have been cutting down mangroves for firewood – and thus damaging the fishing industry, since the mangrove swamps are a critical habitat for the juvenile stages of many species of fish and crustaceans.
Mondlane said the government is replanting mangroves and restoring the mangrove forest ecosystems. He forecast that the prawn catch this year will reach around 3,000 tonnes.
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