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The fishery for rock lobsters in the South Atlantic off the islands of Tristan da Cunha has applied for certification by the Marine Stewardship Council. If the application is approved, the fishery will be certified as sustainable and well-managed. An article last week in the Tristan Times was based on a report by Dr. Johan Groeneveld, a lobster specialist with the Marine and Coastal Management agency. MCM is the South African government body that manages coastal marine resources.

In an era of depleting marine life worldwide, Dr. Groeneveld points out that the Tristan Islanders are “fiercely protective of the lobster resource,” and they take great pride in their sustainable, well-run fishery. Ovenstone Agencies, a Cape Town fishing firm, has the concession to operate the fishery business using a long-line vessel with small boats that trap the lobsters. The company and the islanders have operated together since 1997.

Groeneveld writes that the fishery has been managed during the past 13 years according to a precautionary principle, which has fostered the steady increase of catches and catch rates. Approximately 450 tons of lobsters have been shipped back to Cape Town every year, where they are prepared for export to the United States and Japan.

If the application for certification is approved, the lobsters will be eligible to receive the blue ecolabels of the Marine Stewardship Council, indicating their approval by the internationally recognized certification body. At the current time, 69 fisheries around the world, primarily in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, have been enrolled in the MSC program.

Groeneveld indicates that he underwent training in MSC methodology in February 2009, and has since been involved in other assessment projects in Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. He assessed the Tristan fishery in April, and is expecting the final review by the MSC to take some months yet.

He concludes that receiving the blue MSC ecolabel “may not be the final answer in bringing a sea-change in fishing behaviour, but it certainly is a large step in the right direction.” A signboard at the entrance to the harbor at Tristan da Cunha may well say, “Welcome to the World’s Remotest Island,” but the islanders are hardly out of touch. They are obviously quite aware of the finite limits of their natural resource. It’s an example that many vastly larger societies could well heed—like their ability to get along peacefully.