News of investigations into the impact of pollution from the MS Oliva shipwreck on Tristan's rock lobster fishery, and related environmental issues.

News of MS Oliva's impact on Tristan's Fishing Industry

Start from the beginning or go straight to the Latest News Bulletin of this fast-moving emergency.

The Tristan da Cunha fishing industry is the mainstay of the island's economy. The fishing company Ovenstones operates the factory and manage the fishing concession, paying royalties and employing Islanders in managing the factory, fishing and processing.
Archive photographs above from James Glass (centre) and Paul Tyler
show the famous Tristan Rock Lobster (Crayfish, known locally Jasus tristani),
MV Edinburgh lifting a net trap off the Tristan Settlement and a shoal of mainly Five finger (Acantholatris monodactylus) which is the most abundantly caught inshore whitefish. See also our separate Fishing Page and Fishing News pages in the News Section.

James Glass
took these pictures of Cliff Swain
and his fishing colleagues
with a tuna caught when out fishing
to try to keep thousands of
Rockhopper Penguins alive
in rehabilitation on Tristan
on 29th March 2011

30th March 2011 Report from Tristan Director of Fisheries James Glass
Importance of Fishing
It is evident that the wreck of the Oliva has had a devastating effect on the wildlife, with the focus quite rightly being on the Rockhopper penguins, because they are of the most immediate concern, as can be seen by the numbers oiled. However, what is not so plain to see is the effect it will have on the lobster fishery, which is the mainstay of the island’s economy.
Essential Monitoring Programme
The Government have taken professional advice and a sampling programme has been put in place with the aim to gain a picture of the spatial extent and the level of any contamination in the target stock, with a view to managing the fishery so that (a) no contaminated stock gets into the supply chain and (b) the closure area is no larger in area or longer in duration than is necessary, so as to minimize interruption to normal fishing. Samples will be taken from Nightingale, Inaccessible and Tristan (to act as a benchmark) in areas that are representative of normal fishing grounds, with a wide enough spread that might show spatial or depth variation of any contamination.
The priority is to establish very quickly what effects the spill has had on the juvenile lobsters in the shallow kelp beds, how long it will take the area to return to normal, and whether there will be a recruitment effect in future years. It is expected that the owners/insurers will agree to fund a thorough study that will identify any impacts and monitor recovery that Tristan deems appropriate, for a minimum of five years, as the lobsters take at least six to seven years to reach market size.
Impact on closure of the fishery
When oil leaked from the Oliva, the fishery was closed at Nightingale and Inaccessible islands as a precaution pending expert advice. The Government has been advised that this was the right thing to do. This closure has already had an impact on the economy of the Island as there is an outstanding TAC (Total Allowable Catch) of 63mt still to be caught at these islands. There will be discussion with the insurers, the concession holders and advisers about this and the island will be doing all it can to seek compensation for this loss.
Wreck site's potential danger to fishing
The wreck's position on the western side of Nightingale has a particular impact on fishing. The western side of the island is the best fishing ground, and the wreck will obstruct access, so care will have to be taken when the wreck breaks up, as there may be a risk of tangling and loss of fishing gear.
Previous lessons must be learnt
When the semi-submersible oil platform PXXI (see PXXI page), was stranded at Tristan in 2006, the rig legs were coated with large quantities of dead coral, barnacles, oyster shells, hard corals, large mussels, large dark red anemones, and many many more species all of which were non-native to Tristan. The Brazilian porgy fish, which also came with the rig, is now completely around Tristan. No compensation was received to monitor alien species, and no sampling programme was put in place. James and his team are determined this will not happen again.

Preparing the fish ready to feed rockhoppers
Fish caught to feed penguins in Tristan rehab are brought to a kitchen where it is prepared by a team of Islanders

Left: Tina Glass' picture of Joyce Hagan and Martha Glass on 29th March
Right: Estelle Van der Merwe's picture of Joyce and Martha with Diana Green on 30th March

Adapted report from Tristan Director of Fisheries James Glass received Thursday 31st March
Extreme Fishing – where is Robson Green when you need him!
With an increasing number of Rockhopper Penguins in rehabilitation on Tristan to be fed and no imported fish, Tristan Islanders have to go and catch whitefish, mostly the Yellowtail and Five-finger. The last few days have seen strong winds and hailstorms (known locally as' hailswails') with a confused sea, but this has not deterred the keen fishermen from going to sea. On Tuesday 29 th March Cliff Swain caught a Long-fin Tuna when aboard the barge with fellow islanders Andrew Green, Grant Green, Mark Swain and Duncan Lavarello, and they also landed 16 Yellowtail. In another barge were Larry Swain, Gavin Green, Gary Repetto and Shaun Green who caught 10 Yellowtail and 110 Five-fingers, not bad for a few hours fishing, especially given how bad the weather was.

Each penguin needs approximately 200g of fish (raw meat weight) each, the crews from the boats catch and fillet the fish and then deliver the fillets to the Fisheries and Conservation office lab, where they are cut into chocolate size squares, from here they are taken by another team and up to 8 cubes of fresh fish are fed to each penguin. With over 3000 penguins to feed this means 600 kg of fish are needed daily - an extreme amount to be caught from lines on open boats when some days are inevitably lost as the swell closes Calshot Harbour. What a shame Robson Green can't help!

The tug Singapore departed Cape Town on Wednesday 30th March and is carrying 16 tonnes of pilchards to feed the penguins which will help supplement that caught locally, but unfortunately Robson isn't aboard!

Sunday 3rd April
Feeding continues apace as first penguins go back to sea

James Glass' picture left shows
Jerry Green feeding yellowtail fish
to a penguin in the rehab centre

Even after the first 24 penguins
were released today,
(see Sean Burns' picture right)
there are still 3265 rockhoppers
to be fed every day
so the huge fishing effort continues.

Photographs from Katrine Herian taken 5th and 6th April

Feeding fish to penguins
in the outside pen

Pilchards arrived aboard the
tug Svitzer Singapore on 6th April
Centre picture shows
first penguins to be fed with pilchard

Wednesday 6th April Report from RSPB Project Officer Katrine Herian
Pilchards imported to supplement local fish food for penguins

By midday on 6th April the first boxes of frozen pilchards had come ashore and were being defrosted and fed to the stronger penguins which are being prepared for “washing” over the weekend. Each penguin was fed one pilchard for the first day, as they need to get used to the change in diet from the local yellowtail and five fingers fish fed to them thus far.
Saturday 9th April Report from RSPB Project Officer Katrine Herian
Feeding operation continues
Meanwhile at the holding pens for oiled penguins the feeding teams were hard at work trying to satisfy the hunger of the many penguins waiting to be washed. Pilchards are being fed to the penguins at the village swimming pool and in the outside pens to build up their strength before undergoing the washing process. To date 3662 penguins have been admitted to the centre, 1577 have died, 69 have been washed and a further 24 released back to sea, so 2061 are being fed daily.
Extract from the Public Notice issued by Administrator Sean Burns on 14th April
The Fishery
The fishery on both islands remains closed. We are in the process of collecting samples and these will return to Cape Town on the Edinburgh with James Glass where they will be tested. We look forward to receiving the test results when we will decide what further action we need to take. We are working closely with the insurers, Ovenstone and various experts on this important aspect of the crisis.
Edited Report from Administrator Sean Burns on 27th April
Fishery Assessment
Before she left for Cape Town on 21 April the Edinburgh collected further samples of lobster from Inaccessible, Nightingale and Tristan. The insurers had an observer on board as did the Tristan Fisheries Department. The samples were taken, recorded and stored in accordance with protocols received from a consultant in the UK. It was hoped to get the tests carried out in South Africa but an internationally recognised lab could not be found to carry out the work. As this is so important to determine whether the lobster has been tainted or absorbed any of the pollutants, the tests will now be carried out in an internationally recognised lab in the UK. In the meantime, the fishery remains closed as there is still evidence of pollution and the Government needs to see the results of the testing.   
Sean's team is busy working with experts on the impact the wreck and the spillage of oil, other lubricants and the soya might have had on the precious fishery resource now and in to the future. As the Government have said all along, they  hold the owners and insurers liable for this and if if there is any decline in the catch around Nightingale and / or Inaccessible over the next few years, full compensation is expected. The Government will also be asking for resources to enable us to carry out the necessary research to assess the long term impact on the fishery and the wider environment.

Fishery Update - Post Oliva
From Administrator Sean Burns on 3rd December 2012

A workshop was recently held in Cape Town to assess the latest test fishing data from Nightingale and the lobster juvenile surveys at Nightingale and Inaccessible.

Nightingale Island Fishery
The latest test fishing suggests that although there might have been some mortality of adult lobsters, this was not as extensive as previously thought. It is difficult to assess why previous catch rates were so poor but possibilities are that the lobsters migrated away from the fishing grounds or simply stopped feeding. To assess this further it was agreed to fish commercially for a week to see if catch rates could be maintained. This was carried out and we are pleased to report that the rates were positive. For the 2012/13 season it was agreed that an upper limit of 40 tonnes (which includes the test fishing since July as well as the commercial fishing) be allocated to Nightingale. Everyone agreed that the fish catch was free from contamination and taint.

Inaccessible Island Fishery
The worry at Inaccessible has always been that the juveniles were affected but it maybe some years before any evidence of this is seen. It was agreed that we should deal with this issue if and when it arises rather than try and predict the outcomes and react accordingly. The workshop also discussed the ongoing problem (not Oliva related) of discards at Inaccessible and agreed to reduce the minimum size to 66mm. The workshop agreed to increase the TAC (Total Annual Catch) at Inaccessible to 70 tonnes for the 2012/13 season.

There are still many uncertainties but things do look more positive than 12 months ago. That said, Tristan will continue to adopt a precautionary approach to the management of the fishery.

See also:
Details of the first phase of the disaster up to Monday 21st March :
Oliva Wreck 1
A diary of the clean-up operation on Nightingale and Inaccessible from 21st March:
Oliva Phase II News
News and pictures of the back-up operation on the main Tristan da Cunha Island :
Oliva Tristan Diary
A page providing a Tristan Government view of the Oliva disaster as it unfolds:
Oliva Government News
Want to help? - Link to our How to Help Page
Report explaining the cause of the grounding and safety lessons learned: MS Oliva Safety Report
MS Oliva Disaster Home Page