Re-visiting St Helena

The remote South Atlantic island of St Helena, the island where Napoleon spent his final years after his defeat by the forces of the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo, is seeking certification of its small-scale tuna fisheries to the MSC standard for sustainable fisheries. Following pre-assessment of this fishery, and a period of data gathering, the opportunity was taken to visit the island during July 2009 to meet with fishermen and stakeholders.

This is not an easy place to get to, being only accessible by sea - and even then involving a sea trip of four to eight days. Given the small scale of this fishery (between 250 and 500t per year) and the high cost of getting to and from the island it was considered by the client, the St Helena Development Agency , and the Certification Body, FCI, unreasonable to require the full assessment team to make the journey to the island. This task fell to the team leader, Crick Carleton, who had previously spent the best part of a year on the island as a young fishery consultant almost exactly 30 years earlier.

His previous work had involved experimental tuna fishing, introducing improvements in how fish was distributed and sold on the island, and establishing the economics of an increased scale of fishery operation. 30 years later, whilst industry infrastructure is much improved, and the scale of fishing activity has increased somewhat, the island still suffers from its distance to market. This has not been helped by the stalling of the much anticipated air access project – which is awaiting a funding decision by the UK government.

In the meantime the island is seeking to boost the credentials of its small-boat rod & line and pole & line caught tuna, one of its few sources of foreign earnings. The assessment of this fishery to the MSC standard should come to completion in the first half of 2010.