ST. HELENA: A FISHERY ON THE WAY UP
By J. Brock (SARTMA)
Small Fishing Boats go out each day to catch bait and fish for the Fisheries Corporation.
As I travelled further north in the South Atlantic the approach towards fisheries management and scientific assessment became wholly different from that which was present on South Georgia. There are factors that affect this approach and they are mainly financial.
Gerald Benjamin (GB), Senior Fisheries Officer and Emma George (EG), the Marine Scientific Officer, granted a useful interview in which they discussed some of the anomalies that occur in fisheries with limited resources.
SARTMA: I noted that is the phone book there was no Government entity for fisheries protection and scientific assessment of the commercial fish species in St. Helena waters. Do you have a fisheries regime much as Tristan da Cunha has Ė Joint Ventures with Seafood Companies?
GB: We donít have any joint ventures with seafood companies at the present time. The fishery here is a local fishery run by a Fisheries Corporation set up in 1977 who buys their fish from the local fishermen. The boats range from 8 to 13 metres in size and do fishing on a daily basis. Each morning about 0300, they go out to catch their bait and then out to the fishing grounds and catch fish for the day. They meet EEU standards and carry ice with them. All of the catch is landed within 12 hours. We are continuing with the daily trips and donít have any joint ventures on the Island.
SARTMA: It has been said that in the past, the Government of St. Helena brought in as much as £1 Million per annum from fishing licence revenue and that now the figure is zero pounds per annum. What happened?
GB: I am not sure to a specific answer to this one but in the past we have brought in quite a few pounds Ė a million pounds plus - from the offshore fishing licences. The answer well could be that the resource itself has diminished over the years, which I think itís a world wide problem anyway. The resource isnít as strong as when we first took up licensing in 1988. Companies have found it more economical for them to consider other more fruitful fishing grounds. So, instead of fishing in the south Atlantic in our grounds, they are considering the Pacific or other areas. The other factor might be that ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). Because of the problems they are having with Tuna world wide, the Far Eastern ships that we deal with are having to reduce vessels catching Tuna by over 50%. In some cases, some countries have had to reduce from 600 vessels to 125 vessels. A reduction in the fleet could be part of the cause as well because the vessels that were taking up licences here are now looking for a more valuable resource. That could be part of the reason that we have lost this revenue.
SARTMA: Do you feel that if you had better scientific stock assessment and management of your resource that money might still be coming in from your fishery? Would you explain your reasoning?
GB: Up till now, we havenít had any scientific stock assessment done locally. But we are a member of the ICCAT Commission and they carry out all scientific analysis and assessments within the Atlantic Ocean anyway. All the scientific information comes from them.
If we had better management of the resource it probably would have helped us. The only way of managing the resource is to have some sort of patrol or some sort of surveillance within our waters. This is what is lacking with us at the moment. The reason for this is because of the cost of a patrol vessel. We have been trying to contact other persons or other countries to see about the cost. I believe that in the Falklands, itís something like £5,000.00 a day. Thatís something that we cannot afford, as we would never get a return from the number of licences sold.
SARTMA: They do surveillance using satellite imagery in South Georgia, Would this be a way forward for you?
GB: We have just recently installed a satellite system here but I donít feel itís as good as having a patrol vessel. I think we need some sort of patrol which could enhance the income from our fishery.
SARTMA: What commercial species are indigenous to St. Helena waters?
EG: There are 10 species endemic to St. Helena but none of these are commercial. They are all really tiny fish. So, the fish that we take commercially are more general in the South Atlantic.
SARTMA: Then, what of the distribution around St. Helena waters, of those fish that are commercially viable?
EG: Fish that stay in the area are like Rock-hind, or Grouper and then you get the Tuna, which are migratory. We find this out from the catch data received.
GB: Our main species, the Tuna, breed off the West Coast of Africa and they migrate from there towards the coast of South America. We are more off that route but Ascension Island is more on that route than St. Helena. So, we are just getting the spin-offs from that migration.
SARTMA: Locals on Ascension say that there is a species of Marteralia or Flying Squid that inhabit waters around Ascension. Are there any such squid stocks around St. Helena?
EG: No. We donít have that species here.
GB: We donít do squid fishing here.
SARTMA: Would you explain about how you assess the breeding and life cycle of the commercial species that are targeted?
EG: We are starting to measure the general length of the species that are caught so we can get a far better idea about the population structures. Again, not much is known but we had a study done on the Grouper. The growth rate is much less than any place else in the world. Itís lower here than Ascension. It means that Grouper here would be more susceptible to over fishing.
GB: Grouper, is the main commercial inshore species that we have.
SARTMA: At any point during the life cycle of these species do they leave the fisheries zone around St. Helena?
EG: For the migratory species, if the water temperature gets too cold, they will leave.
GB: The Grouper is a resident species. Itís only the Tuna that moves through other waters.
It was evident when Fisheries Patrol was discussed that Gerald Benjamin emphasised the need to have proper management of the fishery. Though satellite surveillance seemed to be an option open to the St. Helena Fishery, its potential was thought of as a second best option. Images may be great, but you have to do something about it once some unlicensed boat (s) is caught on them.
As long as there are adequate elements on the food chain available in St. Helenaís waters, there is potential for a fishery of some kind. It stands to reason that if commercial stocks around St. Helena can be identified and managed, the fishery will pick up enough to begin thinking of a patrol boat specifically purchased for the purpose of fishery management.
That fishery patrol boat is primary to deterrent of poaching, or even the threat of it. As Gerald Benjamin pointed out, financial constraints prevent the purchase and/ or lease and operation off a proper patrol boat.
One thing is for certain: If the commercial fish stocks are present in St. Helena waters, so will the poachers be present. There is a direct correlation between proper fish management and a sustainable fishery. With satellite surveillance, St. Helena is taking a vital step in the management process.
SARTMA would like to thank the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources for their assistance in producing this article.