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Seychelles: Tuna is a big catch

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

The raw fish are cooked in vast ovens, then chilled so that the flesh can be picked from skin and bones by hand before a machine packs it all into cans that fly along a conveyor belt at high speed. The clattering noise is deafening.

95 percent of the canned tuna produced at this factory in the Seychelles is exported to Europe under brands like John West or Petit Navire.

Alongside the tourism for which the archipelago is famous, tuna fishing is the second pillar of the tiny nation’s economy.

“The tuna industry is the second biggest earner in the Seychelles,” said environment minister Joel Morgan.

But in recent years piracy from Somalia, nearly 1,000 miles away on the coast of Africa, has struck hard. Catches of yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye tuna from within the Seychelles 540,000 square mile Exclusive Economic Zone has fallen dramatically as have port revenues and income from fishing licenses, according to Seychelles finance minister Danny Faure.

“Revenue has dropped as they are afraid to fish in these seas, there has been a huge drop and we’re still looking at it,” he said.

Fishing license fees alone can add up to $15 million a year for the government.

“Total catch within our Exclusive Economic Zone has dropped by 45 percent from 55,241 metric tons in 2008 to 30,288 metric tons in 2009, and that can be largely attributed to piracy,” he said.

Piracy caused a fifth of the registered vessels to quit the tuna fleet last year, said Faure, while the reduced catch caused unemployment to increase among the dock workers of Port Victoria and a slowdown at the immense tuna plant.