St Helena, often referred to as “the secret of the South Atlantic”, is a British Overseas Territory that lies in the southern tropics of the Atlantic Ocean. A 47 square-mile island, it is one of the most remote settled islands in the world and is home to otherworldly landscapes and oceans teaming with life.
The island, which has a maritime zone encompassing 172,439 square miles of open-ocean habitat, is situated within a region rich with marine fauna and has a long tradition of responsible small-scale pole-and-line fishing where tuna are caught one-at-a-time. Today, however, the precious resources on which many islanders depend are constantly at risk of being overfished by foreign fishing vessels throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Another issue is the low prices fishermen receive for their catch at the docks, making it difficult for fishermen to earn a decent living.
A new project, which has just been launched between the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF), the St Helena government, the St Helena Fisheries Corporation and supported by local fishermen, is attempting to protect the fishery and bolster the returns to this remote island community. The project aims to establish a conservation area throughout the entire St Helena maritime zone to shield a vast ocean area from harmful fishing activities and provide valuable protection for the local community’s low-impact, socially responsible tuna fishery.
Through this project, IPNLF will advise St Helena government and local partners on how they can create policies to promote and protect St Helena’s unique ecosystem, as well as the sustainable small-scale tuna fishery that has been part of island community for decades. Over the next three years, the partnership will work with local government to ensure polices are adopted and implemented that ban all destructive fishing gears; enhance management; and strengthen monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) to prevent illegal fishing.
The project will establish best-practice traceability, transparency and data recording systems and improve safety-at-sea. Aligned with all of these measures, project partners plan to communicate the accomplishments of this fishery to a global audience, inspiring like-minded governments and coastal communities with this model that rewards low-impact fisheries and marine conservation.
Stephane Weston, Business Manager & COO of the St Helena Fisheries Corporation, comments, “While many small island countries and territories have committed to partial no-take areas, this will take marine conservation to another level entirely. Imagine a 400,000 km2 maritime zone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where dolphins, whales, sharks and turtles have no chance of encountering bottom trawling or baited longlines. There won’t be a single purse seine net to surround schools of marine life. Not only will the project provide a lifeline to St Helena, it is also an opportunity to define how fisheries should operate in the 21st century – a fully safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing industry that is locally owned and operated. This project will also make a significant contribution to the local economy by producing high quality products for sale on the island and for export.”
Adam Baske, IPNLF’s Director of Policy & Outreach, says, “As an international organisation that is working to develop and demonstrate the value of one-by-one tuna fisheries to coastal communities, IPNLF is extremely passionate about this project. The key to its success will be ensuring the fishing communities and the island as a whole benefit from these commitments and we propose to do just that. We also believe that promoting the ground-breaking policies that St Helena is preparing to implement will put a spotlight on all such fisheries – further impressing upon suppliers, retailers and consumers everywhere the importance of making smart seafood choices, while making St Helena a global inspiration to like-minded governments and other large ocean states.”
Governor Lisa Phillips comments, “For centuries St Helenians have had the closest of bonds with their surrounding waters and its precious resources. Our inherent respect for the marine ecosystem has ensured sustainability remains at the forefront of our fisheries policy, along with the need to provide a bright future for our fishing community. I therefore welcome the endeavours of IPNLF in helping us to implement a special marine conservation zone in which the island’s rich marine life is preserved and the commercial interests of those who earn a living from fishing is improved.”
Derek Henry, Acting Director for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the St Helena Government added, “The benefits that St Helena envisage through this project will be of immense support to the implementation of St Helena’s Marine Management Plan and Fisheries Sector Strategy. The project will contribute significantly to local aspirations for the fisheries sector to improve collaboration and working smarter together for the benefit of St Helena’s current and future maritime users and beneficiaries. As an indication of our commitment to this project, the government and local stakeholders have already agreed to ban longline fishing for the duration of this project."