When I started flyfishing 18 years ago I distinctly remember hearing about the Seychelles as an up-and-coming, ‘epic’ flats fishing destination just waiting to be explored. I was living on South Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands at the time and found it hard to believe that what I was experiencing there in terms of endless flats and pristine coral reef ecosystems could be topped. As my recreational fisheries research and personal fishing forays took me to other flats fishing destinations, such as the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Belize, French Polynesia, and Christmas Island, there always seemed to be that bit of doubt that the Seychelles could be that much better. I actually kept on resisting the temptation to travel to the Seychelles, thinking up all sorts of excuses. It’s too far. It’s too expensive. I can study (and catch) bonefish, GT’s and other flats species in a lot of other places.
This all changed about two years ago when Neville Orsmond brought up the Seychelles in a conversation we were having at T&T HQ, and in particular, the atolls being fished by the Alphonse Fishing Company. His eyes widened as he went into detail about the amazing recreational fishery, as well as how jumping in the water was “like being in the best aquarium in the world”. What really caught my attention was Nev asking if I wanted to be put in touch with Keith Rose-Innes and Devan Van Der Merwe of Alphonse Island, and Pep Nogués of the Island Conservation Society due to their growing interest to conduct some research on their recreational fisheries. How could I say no?
After a few e-mail exchanges and getting an idea of the questions they hoped to address, it was time to start co-writing some proposals, raising some funds, and move towards launching collaborative research efforts. This process can be complicated, arduous, and exhausting, but it quickly became apparent that we worked well together, even from a distance. What also became apparent was the need to conduct a site visit to finalize our ideas regarding the research, discuss the logistics of having one of my Ph.D. students integrated in their team, and, of course, personal experience whether the stories I’ve heard about the Seychelles were too good to be true.
After paying extra to get out of New England a day early because of yet another ‘bomb cyclone’, and spending a few days in Mahé(the most developed island in the Seychelles), it was time to jump over to Alphonse. Of course, I had spent hours on the Internet before going, but nothing prepared me for what was to come. Upon approach, I could look through the cockpit window to the lagoon and airstrip on Alphonse, and then look left to see St Francois not far in the distance. That moment alone put a fresh perspective on the study design we drafted using satellite images and discussions via e-mail.
Once on the ground, meeting Dev, Pep and the rest of Alphonse Fishing Company/Island Conservation Society team in person, revealed a level of dedication to their guests as well as care for the environment and recreational fishery that I have not experienced anywhere else. At first, I thought that this was just the initial ‘awe’ of being in a new place, but these impressions continued throughout my stay. One specific example is when I overheard Dev reminding one of the guides that he would get fined $100 US if found with a fly with a barbed hook, backing up the code of conduct that they’ve established, disseminate to their guests, and that they clearly uphold. Another example was how engaged and open the guide team was about sharing their knowledge, both when touring the flats and during more formal meetings we had regarding the upcoming research. There was a sincere, collective excitement to learn more about the fish they target, as well as a desire to contribute to the sustainable use of the atoll ecosystem.
Getting in and on the water also totally blew my mind. I have never seen such abundance and diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine life. Not only were we tripping over bonefish when wading the flats, there were a bunch of other species that loved to take a fly. We frequently saw countless sea turtles, several species of rays, and the craziest pink morays that snaked through the seagrass as the tide receded. As an angler, there was only a dull moment if we wanted to have one. Over the course of only one week, there were ample shots at Indo-Pacific permit, several species of triggerfish, and, of course, giant trevally. As an academic, this place totally reinforced the fact that healthy ecosystems, including intact habitats and high biodiversity, means robust recreational fisheries.
To help maintain what Alphonse and St Francois Atolls have to offer, our research will begin by addressing how the movement patterns of giant trevally change throughout the year, as well as how GTs respond to varying degrees of angling pressure. Essentially, is there a site-specific carrying capacity of anglers that can target GTs? To do so, we’ll be using acoustic telemetry coupled with detailed mapping of angling activities, including catch rates and fish size. We are also going to be examining how GTs physiologically respond to catch-and-release, and how guides and anglers can modify their angling and handling techniques to ensure that these beasts swim away in the best condition possible. Collectively, the outcome of this research will help guide the activities of the Alphonse Fishing Company and shape the broader conservation efforts of the Island Conservation Society. Support for the research includes contributions from the Alphonse Foundation, the Seychelles Fishing Authority, and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Don’t be too surprised if we also expand to other species such as milkfish and Indo-Pacific permit.
As with any project, I’m sure there will be challenges, however, this particular one is starting with what is already an outstanding example of a well-managed recreational fishery and ecosystem upon which it depends. What is especially inspiring is that there is a drive to do it better, not just for the sake of business, but also for the sake of the deeper values and warm fuzzy feelings these atoll ecosystems provide. With growing global tensions, insecurity, and environmental atrocities, being able to do something to help take care of such a place for future generations to enjoy makes it all worth it.
Andy Danylchuk is a T&T ambassador who holds A Ph.D. and is a professor at the University of Massachusettes Amherst. His true passion in life besides fly fishing is fish conservation. Check out Andy's full ambassador profile here and follow Andy at @fishmission to stay up to date on all of Andy's conservation projects.