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  Issue No. 641 Online Edition Sunday 14 February 2016 
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Tristan : Tristan da Cunha rock lobster fishery enters full MSC assessment
Submitted by Tristan Times (Sarah Glass) 27.04.2010 (Current Article)

The sign-board that awaits you when finally reaching Tristan da Cunha Island after a week-long South Atlantic sea voyage from Cape Town says “Welcome to the World’s Remotest Island”.

Tristan da Cunha rock lobster fishery enters full MSC assessment

By Dr Johan Groeneveld

The sign-board that awaits you when finally reaching Tristan da Cunha Island after a week-long South Atlantic sea voyage from Cape Town says “Welcome to the World’s Remotest Island”. This small volcanic archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands lies half-way between Africa and South America, and together with Gough Island 400 km away, is home to the rock lobster Jasus tristani. A commercial lobster fishery, active since 1949, provides the only significant income to a community of 275 islanders in the aptly named settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

Realizing their dependence on the lobster fishery, the islanders are fiercely protective of the lobster resource, and pride themselves on a good record of operating a well-run and sustainable fishery. A Cape Town fishing company, Ovenstone Agencies, has the only concession to fish around the outer islands (Gough, Inaccessible and Nigtingale) using a long-line trapping vessel and small boats with traps, and to process lobsters caught by islanders around Tristan island. The partnership between the fishing company and the islanders has been active since 1997 – during this period a precautionary management strategy has seen increases in catches and catch rates at Tristan and the outer islands, a good sign that the fishery is being well-managed. The fishery produces approximately 450 tons of lobster per year, all of which is shipped back to Cape Town and then exported to Japan and the United States.

The Tristan da Cunha rock lobster fishery has now entered the full assessment phase for the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) certificate for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. If successful, lobsters from this fishery will be eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel, marking them as sourced from an internationally recognized sustainable and well-managed fishery, and also giving them access to the ever-expanding niche markets for ecolabelled products. There are presently 69 certified fisheries in the MSC programme, with another 124 fisheries presently undergoing assessments ( Most of the certified fisheries are located in the NE and NW Atlantic and in the N Pacific (i.e. around Europe, the United States and Canada), with three in Australia and New Zealand, and one (South African hake trawl fishery) in Africa.

ORI staff has been active in MSC assessments over the past two years.  Johan Groeneveld and Sean Fennessy underwent training in MSC assessment methodology in Cape Town in February 2009, and were subsequently involved in pre-assessments of artisanal octopus and lobster fisheries in Tanzania and Kenya, and in prawn trawl fisheries in Mozambique. Johan Groeneveld is presently on the MSC assessment team for the Jasus tristani fishery at Tristan da Cunha, as a consultant to the UK-based certifier, MacAlister Elliot and Partners. The assessment team convened stake-holder meetings and undertook the assessment of the Tristan fishery in Cape Town on 6-9 April 2010, and the final reporting and international review process is expected to take some months.  

An MSC assessment is a voluntary third-party assessment that measures a fishery against a set of “Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing” as a standard. Principle 1 requires that a fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion (including demonstrable recovery in depleted populations). Principle 2 requires that fishing operations should allow for the maintenance of structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends, and Principle 3 requires an effective management system that respects local, national and internal laws and standards, and incorporates institutional and operational frameworks that require responsible and sustainable fishing. Each of these three principles is tested against a plethora of criteria, which include extensive stakeholder participation, the use of numerical stock assessments, biological / stock status reference points, expert opinion and risk-based frameworks.    

In the present era of unparalleled pressure on marine resources from fisheries and environmental change, it is clear that well managed and sustainable fishing is essential to maintain healthy oceans, livelihoods and economies worldwide. The MSC solution, to: a) recognize and reward fisheries that fish sustainably; b) work with individual fisheries and commercial partners to build a market for sustainable seafood; and c) give buyers and consumers an easy way to find seafood from a sustainable fishery (i.e. the blue MSC ecolabel) may not be the final answer in bringing about a sea-change in fishing behaviour, but it certainly is a large step in the right direction. 


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