Julie Thomas – The ocean has, and always will, play a very big part in my life. I grew up in one of the world’s most remote island communities, St Helena.
The island, often referred to as the ‘secret of the South Atlantic’, lies over 1,000 miles from any continent. The ocean habitat surrounding us is rich with awe-inspiring marine life – whale sharks, humpback whales, sea turtles and devil rays.
The island is also home to a unique tuna fishery, which maintains the age-old fishing method of catching tuna one at a time. Fishing is integral to our community, providing a source of employment and food – almost every family on St Helena has a connection to a fisherman on the island, and we all depend on the sea to feed our families. For my husband, a commercial fisherman of 24 years, fishing is in his blood. Like his great, great grandfathers before him, he catches tuna with one hook and one line, one at a time. There is no greater connection you can have to the sea, and our fishermen in St Helena know this better than anyone.
Waylon Thomas catching tuna with pole-and-line © IPNLF
To safeguard our traditional fishery, protect our marine habitat and increase the economic returns to our community, St Helena declared a Marine Protected Area in its maritime zone, and we have been working with on a project with the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) to ensure that this 172,439 square mile area of ocean habitat only allows for one-by-one tuna fishing – meaning no nets or destructive longlines. With these techniques there is no chance of any bycatch, so our sharks, whales and turtles are safe, effectively creating the largest protected area for these species in the Atlantic Ocean.
Calvin Clifford and Peter Benjamin moving one-by-one caught tuna to the hold, 2017 © IPNLF
In order to improve the returns to St Helena for its commitment, the project will work to develop best-practice traceability, transparency and data collection systems for our fishery, allowing us to demonstrate our commitment to responsible management and combatting illegal fishing. It will also help our fishery deliver the highest quality products, to maximise the value coming back to the community for every tuna we catch.
The story of the food you eat is so important, and I believe that’s especially the case for the fish caught in our oceans. We want consumers to know the story behind their tuna. We want them to know that it came from St Helena, and that it was caught in the most responsible way. We want them to know that the community here is committed to protecting the marine environment and, crucially, we want them to hear about a fishery that focuses on sustainability and quality over quantity.
Catching tuna one at a time with pole-and-line, 2017 © Adam Baske
This project brings with it so many opportunities: an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that large-scale ocean conservation and profitable fisheries can work hand-in-hand; an opportunity to increase the economic returns to the fishers and fishing communities that champion the most sustainable fishing practices; and, an opportunity for this approach to become a blueprint for tuna fisheries all over the world.
While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, the tuna fishing community on this remote isle is united in its belief that we can and shall overcome these challenges by putting sustainability first.
Cover image – James Bay and the harbour on St Helena island, 2017 © IPNLF
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This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.
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