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The fishery and biology of the rock lobster Jasus tristani at the Tristan da Cunha Islands group
The Tristan lobster Jasus tristani is distributed among several isolated islands and submerged seamounts in the South East Atlantic Ocean. This species occurs only at the Tristan da Cunha group, a British Overseas Territory and the World’s most remote inhabited island, and in international waters at Vema Seamount 1680 km ENE of Tristan. All these populations are exploited commercially. The catch, processing and export of J. tristani is the most important economic activity for the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha, providing the livelihood of many families and accounting for approximately 80% of the Island’s revenue. Sustainable harvesting of this valuable resource requires accurate long-term data on catch and effort, as well as information on the most important biological parameters such as growth, recruitment, moulting and reproductive cycles. This information is critical for robust assessments and management strategies. This thesis describes the history of the lobster fishery at the Tristan da Cunha island group, reporting on catches and trends in Catch Per Unit Effort between 1967 and 2010. A total of 247,014 lobster samples, both sexes combined, was sampled for size composition and sex ratios, as well as 1,526 lobsters for length/weight relationships, between 1997 and 2010. This confirms earlier findings that females have broader and heavier tails than males for the same carapace length (CL). Results show that males dominate catches at all islands, and their average size was larger than that of females (83.5 ± 14.46 versus 73.4 ± 8.64 mm CL, respectively). Inter-island differences in lobster population structure appear to be caused by differences of food availability as well as in density-dependent growth and survival of young lobsters. The largest lobsters were found at Gough Island (87.2 ± 15.13 mm CL), and the smallest at Inaccessible island (73.2 ± 11.39 mm). Tristan was the next largest to Gough Island (84.0 ± 12.56 mm) followed by Nightingale island (78.2 ± 11.33 mm). Lobsters caught inshore were larger than those caught offshore, although this may be related in part to differences in catches between fishing gear types. This study showed that fecundity increases in a linear manner with CL, and although larger lobsters clearly produce more eggs than smaller ones, the gain in fecundity is not as great as in some lobster species where fecundity is more closely associated with weight. The study showed no significant differences in egg size between islands, or between large and small females at one island. The egg production per gram of body weight and mean egg diameter both seem to be less than reported in an earlier study in the 1990s. While it seems likely that this is due to differences in the way in which samples were collected (with only stage 2 ova collected and measured in this study), the possibility of a decline in fecundity needs to be investigated further. A range of management measures have been developed over the history of the fishery, and important current measures include an annual total allowable catch (TAC) for each island, minimum size limits, and a closed season timed to protect egg-bearing females. The fishery has recently been awarded certification by the Marine Stewardship Council. The study has confirmed that current conversion factors are broadly correct and that different size limits established for each island are justified. Concern is raised, however, by the fall in catch per unit effort and the mean size of lobsters at the three northern islands over the past 7 years. These trends will need to be closely monitored. There are still many uncertainties over key parameters such as growth and recruitment and the intention is to increase the knowledge base and our understanding of the dynamics of the lobster stock. A research plan has been developed, so that progress can be monitored through the gradual implementation of scientifically defendable fisheries management procedures and increased research and monitoring capacity.