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The paradox of sustainable tuna fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean: between visions of blue economy and realities of accumulation


For many coastal nations in the Western Indian Ocean, and notably the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles, the tuna fishery is considered one of the main pillars of economic development, providing jobs and substantial revenues while ensuring food security. However, the fishery is also an illustration of the paradox behind the idea of the blue economy, where economic growth and sustainable use of resources are promoted as jointly achievable. We show that a sustainability narrative, in which the idea of fishing within ecological limits is present within government policy, public discourse, and practices, is, however, in contradiction with the realities of accumulation and growth that prevail in the fishery. When measures towards ecological preservation are to be taken, geopolitics of access to the sea and tuna enter the stage and change the position and narrative of the same actors, governments, and industrial actors that promote sustainability. We emphasize the difficult and nearly impossible path of practicing sustainability in the current model of growth-driven tuna fisheries. We argue for the need to repoliticize the practice of sustainability through the questioning of what we see in tuna fisheries: a hegemonic narrative of sustainability and implicit growth, without positive socio-ecological transformations.

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Fig. 1

(Source: Analysis by the authors)

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  1. At the 2019 IOTC meeting, the Maldives objected to the calculations by the Secretariat of the IOTC on the basis that the figure was cumulative of all its fleets while only vessels of less than 24 m were subject to the management measure and these were compliant (IOTC 2019d).


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We are grateful to all the interviewees for sharing their perspectives with us. We would also like to thank Maria Hadjimichael and Irmak Ertör for comments on the earlier drafts of the article. Thanks also to the editors and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. We acknowledge the Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne as well as the International Pole and Line Foundation for having financially supported the fieldwork.

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Correspondence to Mialy Andriamahefazafy.

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Handled by Maria Hadjimichael, University of Cyprus, Cyprus.

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Andriamahefazafy, M., Bailey, M., Sinan, H. et al. The paradox of sustainable tuna fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean: between visions of blue economy and realities of accumulation. Sustain Sci 15, 75–89 (2020).

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  • Tuna
  • Sustainability
  • Political ecology
  • Access
  • Overfishing