Fishing boats at Calshot harbour
Fishing boats at Calshot harbour (c) Janine Lavarello

The Marine Protection Zone protects 91% of Tristan’s waters as a no-take (no fishing) zone. However, local sustainable fishing (managed by the Tristan da Cunha Government) is permitted within the Inshore Fishing Zones (around the islands' coastal waters) and in the Seamount Fishing Zones.  

For more information, please read the Tristan da Cunha Government Marine Management Plan.  

The Tristan rock lobster (known locally as crayfish or crawfish) is found in abundance in the inshore marine environment around the island archipelago and is fished for the plate and for export.  

The Tristan da Cunha Government licenses the lobster fishery around all the islands of the archipelago, under a concession agreement with a fishing agency, who run an offshore fishing factory freezer vessel and fish-process factory on Tristan.  

Lobster fishing around Tristan da Cunha 

Tristan islanders run the island-based fishery catching lobster and octopus. A local fleet of 12 large powerboats is manned with two crews of two fishermen, fishing on alternate days.  

Each powerboat is licensed for the same number of traps and hoop-nets to catch lobster inshore. Periodic boat checks are carried out to confirm the number of traps/hoop-nets carried by each local boat. 

Once the fishing boats have landed their catches of lobster, the catch is taken to the factory where it is processed and packed ready for export. 

The Marine Stewardship Council certified lobster fishery represents over three-quarters of the island’s economic activity, with some additional revenue coming from fishing on offshore grounds.  

Fishing day

On a fishing day, there is a noticeable buzz throughout the village; the gong is sounded around 4:30am (summer) and 6:30am (winter) to inform the community that it is a fishing day.  

The fishing season is open between 1 July and 30 April for the local fleet. Many of the community are involved on a fishing day with lots of people having allocated jobs. 

Catch limit quota

A lobster size limit (to prevent undersized lobsters from being caught, ensuring they reach reproductive maturity) was introduced in 1983 and Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits were introduced in 1991. Each year a TAC for lobster is set for each island; this is an important management measure.  Since the introduction of TACs, restrictions on fishing gear and other management measures, the fishery is seeing an improvement and stocks have gradually recovered.

Collecting fishing data

Details of daily catches and pack categories are obtained from the factory. Log sheets from the fishing vessel are collected and analysed. Carapace (hard shell of the lobster) length/frequency data from the outer islands and local boats are collected. Tagged fish are continually obtained and data on growth collated.  

Processing the catch

The fishermen return to Calshot harbour at the docking time of 5.00pm (in the winter) and 6.00pm (summer). On return to harbour their catches are checked by the Sea Fisheries Officer for undersized and berried (with eggs) lobster, and to verify the daily catch figures. 

All lobster and octopus landed by the local fishing fleet are processed at Tristan’s factory by islanders.  

Permanent factory staff, temporary staff and pensioners help process the lobster. The live lobster to go into holding tanks to be processed later into whole raw / whole cooked.  

The rest of the lobster are tailed (heads removed) and de-wormed (removing the intestinal tract), sorted into size categories (grades), weighed, and packed into cartons according to their graded size.  

The product is later taken onto the company’s fishing vessels and transported to Cape Town, South Africa.  

Subsistence fishing

Islanders use hand lines, trolling and traps to catch finfish, octopus, and lobster, around the island of Tristan da Cunha, although fishing at Nightingale and Inaccessible is opportunistic when weather permits. Fishers also use rods and hand lines directly from the beach.  

Lobster fishing on the outer islands

Fishing on the outer islands
Fishing on the outer islands

The offshore fishing season is open between 25 August to 30 April for the other lobster vessels.  

One primary fishing vessel is used to fish at the other three outer islands of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough. The vessel operates with monster traps and launches support dinghies that fish using traps. All catches from the outer islands are processed on-board the vessel by the crew.  

Fishery Officers and/or observers spend time on board the lobster concession holder’s vessels to observe operations and check compliance with regulations. There is normally a 100% observer coverage 

Seamount fishing

There are four seamount fishing zones in Tristan da Cunha’s seas that cover part of each of the seamounts that have been historically fished for Bluenose warehou. Some sustainable fishing is allowed in these areas and this fishing must also comply with rules about how fish are caught, how many fish can be caught each season, and implement measures that prevent bycatch. However, due to the recommended TAC on the seamounts it is not viable for any company to fish so no fishing occurs at present.  

Marine Protection Zone

The journey to our Marine Protection Zone began in 2010 when the Tristan da Cunha community started discussing how to protect our pristine ocean. We were already managing our lobster fishery sustainably, but we wanted to go further.