During the fishing season the Tristan da Cunha community come together to process the sustainably fished rock lobster (known locally as crayfish) ready for export. Janine Lavarello, Atlantic Guardians Marine Protection Zone Officer, shares her account from a day working in the lobster processing factory.  

All crayfish landed by the local Tristan da Cunha fishing fleet are processed at Tristan’s fish factory by the islanders. The Factory is a short distance from the harbour and the trays of crayfish are brought up by a tractor with stainless steel trailer.

The community work through the evening

A normal lobster processing day in the factory starts around 5pm when the hooter is sounded (a bell calling workers to the factory).

The ladies who work in the factory also have day-time jobs which are from 8am to 3pm. The ladies are joined in the factory by the retired, elder members of the community.

Due to the factory being EU accredited before entering the processing area all process workers must adhere to the regulations, i.e., all jewellery is taken off, wellington boots, aprons, gloves, hats, and hair nets must be worn. The system is to ensure all safety and hygiene methods are in place, so our product is of the highest quality for our clients.

Sorting and checking the catch

The crayfish comes through into the wet area in trays that have been sorted by the fishermen for undersized and berried (with eggs) which get returned to sea to help maintain a healthy crayfish population. Depending on the day’s catch there can be between 30 to 100 trays of crayfish to process.

Two Sea Fishery Officers employed by the Tristan Fisheries Department are present to carry out random checks ensuring regulations are being followed. If five or more undersized or berried crayfish are found in the fishermen’s catch a fine is imposed. This is an incentive to ensure that the fishermen carefully inspect their catch.

Holding tanks for processing later in the week

The crayfish are checked, sorted, and the live fish go into holding tanks, there is a total of 40 tanks in the tank room.  The fish is placed in the tanks to purge and will be processed later into whole raw/cooked and Sashimi (raw fish sliced into pieces) by retired and part-time female members of the community.

Tailed, dewormed, and sorted

The octopus that is caught gets cleaned, turned upside down, and wrapped into plastic bags. They are then frozen and ready for export to the markets.

The remaining and dead crayfish are tailed (heads removed) the same evening as being landed by retired male members of the community. The heads are washed, sorted, and packed into boxes to be exported to clients. Once the Crayfish has been tailed, they are dewormed (removing the intestinal tract) and the tails are washed before going into the chiller.

Once they have reached a certain temperature, they are sorted into size categories (grades), weighed into trays of ten pounds, and packed into cartons according to their graded size. This is done by permanent factory staff, government workers and pensioners. Each fish is carefully inspected before being packed, ensuring it’s of the best quality and not a reject (damaged fish).

Recording the weight and grades

Once all the fish has been processed, each carton is weighed again by the supervisor. She will double-check the weights and mark down the number of boxes/grades that have been packed that evening. The product then goes into the freezer which is later mastered (packed into larger boxes).

Export to South Africa to be sold worldwide

The fish are then taken onto the concession company’s fishing vessel and transported to Cape Town, South Africa. After arrival in South Africa, the product is sold worldwide and is believed to be the best-tasting lobster in the world. Hopefully, you may be lucky enough to sample it yourselves one day.

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Lobster factory processing
Processing the lobster in the factory on Tristan da Cunha

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