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Seychelles: Tuna is a big catch

But piracy is threatening Indian Ocean's biggest fishing industry.

VICTORIA, Seychelles — It takes less than five hours to turn a fresh fish into a canned meal and the biggest tuna cannery in the Indian Ocean produces 1.5 million cans every day.

Francois Rossi, operations manager of French-owned Indian Oceans Tuna, gave GlobalPost a tour of the immense facility, a key driver of the Seychellois economy under one huge metal roof.

Fishing vessels known as purse seiners for the way their vast nets are sealed at the top when dragged out of the ocean moor along the dock, three or four at a time. Most fly French, Spanish or Seychelles flags. Because the ships spend days at sea, the catch is frozen on board as soon as it is dragged out of the ocean.

Once the frozen cargo arrives at the port, the heavy fish bump and slide down chutes into waiting trolleys, making metallic crashes like banging pots. These are yellowfin tuna, so-called because of the distinctive yellowing tips on their silvery fins.

Overfishing is a worldwide concern but these tuna do not belong on the same endangered lists as the more famous bluefin. Nor are they the kind of delicacy that might appear on the sashimi menu of a high class sushi restaurant. These yellowfin are destined for the can.

Tractors drag trains of trolley-loads of tuna into the warehouse. The humid tropical heat clashes with the refrigeration, creating clouds of condensation. The lights of the tractors glow spookily in the atomized gloom.

Before cooking, the fish are sorted by size then beheaded and gutted leaving the cement floor slick with blood. To maintain hygiene, the 2,400 workers bustle about in plastic aprons, gumboots, gloves and hair nets. Men have their facial hair masked by “beard snoods” like a chin-borne mirror image of a hair net.