In June 2022, James Glass and Rodney Green from the Fisheries Department, Government of Tristan da Cunha and Siobhan Vye, Atlantic Guardians Project Manager went on a knowledge exchange trip to visit lobster fisheries in Australia, covering both Victoria and Tasmania.
The purpose of the trip was to understand how other similar lobster fisheries operated and to place Tristan da Cunha’s MSC certified, sustainable rock lobster fishery in context compared to other lobster fisheries.
James Glass said “We were hoping to learn how we might improve what we already do on Tristan or what changes we could implement.
The trip was a real eye opener, allowing us to keep up with international regulations, current stock, climate change and other conservation issues to improve the management of our Marine Protection Zone.”
The team visited many seafood and fishing companies to find out about their operations. They visited Southern Australian Rock Lobster Company (SALCO), Candy Abalone (marine snails) and True South Seafood in Tasmania and shared lessons learnt, and common issues related to marketing and selling shellfish. The companies also provided valuable insights into how to diversify and make the most of a fishery through unexpected avenues. For example, True South Seafoods exploit an invasive long spined sea urchin on the Tasmanian coast allowing them to diversify their operations selling both urchin roe and investigating the use of crushed urchin shells as a biofertilizer.
Presenting to the University of Tasmania
The team also visited University of Tasmania & Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) hosted by Professor Caleb Gardner who had helped facilitate the Tasmanian part of the trip. The IMAS team is responsible for independently analysing Tasmanian lobster fisheries data.
While at IMAS in Hobart, James gave a presentation to fisheries managers, fishermen and students about Tristan da Cunha’s lobster fishery.
James said “The feedback that Rodney and I received from the people that we had meetings with were overall very impressed with what we were doing with the management of the Tristan da Cunha lobster fishery. They considered our fishery to be one of the most well managed in the world, certainly with one of the highest Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) for lobster.”
Feedback from local fishermen
It was important to James and Rodney to also meet with local fishermen to understand their viewpoints on their lobster fishery in Australia. Meetings with local fishermen gave some insight into the pressure and responsibility they faced. They indicated that fishing has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, highlighting the struggles they face; one fisherman said it was “a continual fight just to go outside the harbour to fish” another said, “it’s difficult to make a living from fishing at the moment”.
James said, “Thankfully on Tristan due to the community having an invested interest in the way the fishery is managed we are not yet faced with those problems.”
Exploring live lobster markets
The team visited Garth’s seafood where live lobsters were kept in tanks was mostly for the domestic market in Australia with some export to China.
James said “One thing that was clear, Tristan would never be able to enter the live lobster market, although adding value to the product through different processing methods could increase the price per kg, and thus revenue. It seems we were getting a much lower price per kg, than Australia and Tasmania for the same product (frozen whole and tails).”
Fisheries facing difficulties
Victoria Fisheries Management Authority explained their fishing zones, Marine Protection Zone and how they’d been badly affected by climate change, invasive urchins, abalone virus, seismic activity and covid-19.
The team met Atlantis Fisheries, a company who aim to solve problems in fisheries, making fisheries profitable again. They explained their current projects on fish stock, gummy shark incentives and a fishing co-operative – where locals can sell their catch and an in-house fish shop.
Tristan has a healthy fishery
James said “The one thing that really stood out during this knowledge exchange trip was how healthy the Tristan da Cunha fishery was compared with Australia and Tasmania, and how many more management measures we have in place to protect the fishery and to increase or at least maintain a healthy Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE). Simple things such as the following (among others):
- Closed season during the breeding season (no landing of females with eggs)
- Size limit above the size of maturity (allowing several years of breeding before capture)
- Mesh size restriction (allowing juveniles to escape)
- Fishing gear restriction
- Soak time restriction (only fishing in daylight hours)
- Open traps (to prevent any ghost fishing if lost)
- Total Allowable Catch (TAC’s)
James said “I have been involved in the fishery for 46 years, 29 as Director of Fisheries and with these measures in place I can’t see Tristan ever having a declining fishery.
I think such visits need to occur every few years for Fisheries staff to be kept aware of the global changes in lobster fisheries and markets.”
Rodney Green said “This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to experience how other fisheries and markets operate. I'm extremely grateful to all those involved who made the trip happen. The knowledge I have gained will certainly help me to make important decisions to safeguard our fishery and manage our important MPZ”.
Thanks to Blue Nature Alliance (through the Atlantic Guardians project) for funding the knowledge exchange trip and giving Tristan the opportunity to broaden its understanding in fisheries management.