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Hook, line and sinker

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In a bowl to sea went wise men three, on a brilliant night in June. They carried a net, and their hearts were set on fishing up the moon.
Thomas Love Peacock

Surrounded by sea, fishing is inevitably part of our culture.

This page is in indexes: Island Activity, Island Detail

Fishing [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

Go to: Climate & CurrentsSo what is caught?HistoryDeclineSport FishingInshore FishingFishing from the rocksThe LawLocal and Scientific namesSt Helena and Whale FisheryRead More

Climate & Currents

Portzic, 2003 (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Portzic, 2003

1,500Km north of St Helena are the warm equatorial waters. These contain few nutrients for fish. To the south of the island there are also quite unproductive waters, as can be seen from the yachts coming up from Cape Town. These normally travel trolling with a line after the boat all the way up from Cape Town and rarely catch anything. So under normal circumstances there would not be any lucrative fishing to the north or south of St Helena.

What makes all the difference is the Benguela Current. This travels up the west coast of Southern Africa, bringing cold and nutritious waters until it meets the south heading Angola Current and turns north-west. The result flows just north of St Helena, supplying an influx of nutrition, mainly in form of plankton and everything living from it, including smaller fish. All of this is excellent food for our target fish - of which Tuna is certainly the most important.

Tuna does not like overly cold waters. It takes less energy to live in warm water than cold: you do not need to burn as many calories keeping yourself warm. But, like any other living thing, the Tuna must go where the food is. The waters just to our north provide a good compromise.

Seamounts map, 2016 (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]{7}

The primary places where commercial fish can normally by found around St Helena are the (relatively) nearby ‘seamounts’, Bonaparte and Cardno. These are shown on the map (right). Here the Benguela Current is hitting from the south-east.

To make this more complicated, the currents are seasonal, changing throughout the year. In the summer the water from the Benguela Current does not reach as far north as it does in the winter. For St Helena, this is also a factor in our weather. In our winter, it is more likely to find fish at Cardno than at Bonaparte because the cold current is pushing further up in the warm belt of equatorial water at that time. Tuna does not particularly like being cold so it stays in the warmer waters further north. However, the Tuna needs food so the place for it to be is in the conversion zone between the warm and cold waters. And a seamount will force an upwelling of cold nutritious water from deeper water to the surface and this will be an hotspot of activity. The Tuna will feed from the small fish assembling in these hotspots.

So what is caught?

The fish landings for 2015 (Kg) were:































For comparison, here are the catches for 1987:
















It can be seen that there has been an overall decline in catches of 37%, with dramatic falls in landings of all species except Tuna, which rose by 121%. This is further illustrated by the following chart:

Fish landings 1987-2015 [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Fish landings 1987-2015

Note that 2011 was as much an exceptionally good year as 2013 was a bad one. The relatively good years in 2004-2006 were when the Portzic and Atlantic Rose were operating.

Figures courtesy of the St Helena Statistics Office (Government of St Helena)


Inshore fishing has been practiced on St Helena since the island was settled, and probably since it was first inhabited. The first record of proposed offshore fishing comes from July 1803:

Colonel Lane proposes that decked Fishing Boats of 30ft keel should be used; enabled to explore in all directions to the distance of 10 leagues around the island; supposed that there are banks running out from the Island to a much greater distance and it is on that description of ground out of the reach of open boats that an ample supply of fish is to be expected, and of a different kind and superior quality ever yet experienced. Six boats with three men and 2 boys to each would be more than sufficient to supply the whole island.

There is no further mention in the Records, so it appers either that Governor Patton did not agree with this plan, or that it was not successful. When offshore fishing did begin is not known.

Yellow-fin Tuna [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]Albacore [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]Wahoo [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]Bigeye Tuna [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]Skipjack [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]


There are pictures of huge Tuna hanging on the galleys at the Wharf as late as the middle 20th Century. In the ‘before days’ fish were in abundance. Since then, 70-120 million tons of pilchards and anchovies, all of them good Tuna food, have been fished out of the rich waters of the Benguela current. The over fishing of the food of our prime resource has had an impact on St Helena. The old days of abundance will probably never come back.

Large fish on the Wharf, c.1900 (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Large fish on the Wharf, c.1900

Fish Market, 1920s (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Fish Market, 1920s

Albacore (‘St Helena Beef’), 1903 (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Albacore (‘St Helena Beef’), 1903

Sport Fishing

Sport Fishing with “ Into The Blue ” (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Sport Fishing with “Into The Blue{a}

Recent years have seen a growth in Sport Fishing from St Helena, with several operators offering trips to visitors. A typical full-day fishing trip starts at around 04:00 hours, to catch live bait for the day’s fishing. Then, heading out to the deep-sea you can fish for Tuna, Wahoo and seasonal fish such as Marlin and Dorado. Towards the afternoon the trip moves into shallow water to fish for various species of ground fish.

Inshore Fishing

Very small volumes are landed by boats fishing inshore. Inshore fishing is mostly undertaken to supply bait for offshore fishing activities.

Fishing from the rocks

Many Saints simply go down to the shore and fish from the rocks, though these days this is mostly practiced by the older generation. The exception to this is Maundy Thursday, when special arrangements have to be made to cater for the volume of people fishing from the Wharf and at Rupert’s.

Yellowtail [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Yellowtail seriola lalandi

The ‘cunningfish’ is so-called because it gets bait off the hook without swallowing it.

The Law

Grouper (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

Spear fishing is prohibited off St Helena from 1st January to 31st March (inclusive).

The Protection of Wrecks and Marine Archaeological Heritage Ordinance 2014 which, in brief, makes it illegal to penetrate any protected wreck, tamper with, damage or remove any part of a protected wreck, or use sand pumping, spear fishing or groundfish fishing equipment within 100m of any protected wreck. The Protected Wrecks are: Papanui, Spangereid, Darkdale, Witte Leeuw, Bedgellett, Frontier, Portzic and Atlantic Rose.

By law, all fish caught by commercial fishing must first be offered to the Government of St Helena Fisheries Corporation (SHGFC), which pays a set price per Kg depending on species. Only if the SHGFC cannot or will not accept the catch may it be offered for sale on the open market.{4}

Local and Scientific names

Here are the commonest species, with their local and scientific names:

Local name

Scientific name

Offshore Species


Thunnus albacares


Thunnus alalunga


Thunnus obesus

Skipjack tuna

Katsuwonus pelamis


Acanthocybium solandri


Makaira nigricans


Istiophorus albicans


Scomber japonicus


Cookeolus japonicus

Brown Spotted Grouper

Epinephelus adscensionis

Common Inshore Species


Melichthys niger


Kyphosus sectatrix

Cavalley Pilot

Chromis multilineata


Abudefduf saxatilis


Amblycirrhitus pinos


Scorpaena plumieri

Old Wife

Diplodus sargus


Synodus synodus

Shitty Trooper

Acanthurus bahianus


Rypticus saponaceus


Aulostomus strigosus


Ophioblennius atlanticus atlanticus

Local name

Scientific name

Target Inshore Species


Epinephelus adscensionis

Hardback Soldier

Holocentrus adscensionis

Softback/Bastard Soldier

Myripristis jacobus

Rock Bullseye

Heteropriacanthus cruentatus


Gymnothorax moringa

Endemic Inshore Species

Ascension Goby

Priolepis ascensionis

Bastard Cavalley Pilot

Stegastes sanctaehelenae

Bastard Cunningfish

Chaetodon dichrous

Bastard Fivefinger

Chromis sanctaehelenae

Bastard Hogfish

Canthigaster sanctaehelenae


Chaetodon sanctaehelenae


Thalassoma sanctaehelenae


Acanthostracion notacanthus

Marmalade Razorfish

Xyrichtys blanchardi


Bodianus insularis


Sparisoma strigatum

Sand Greenfish

Xyrichtys sanctaehelenae

Red Mullet

Apogon axillaris

Sunset with fishing vessel Portzic [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Sunset with fishing vessel Portzic

St Helena and Whale Fishery

The War of American Independence from 1775-83 cost Britain its main source of sperm whale oil, an important resource at the time. The whalers turned instead to the waters of the South Atlantic. A major port was not needed because the whalers had developed the technique of processing caught whales aboard ship. Being on the main shipping route to Britain, St Helena was and ideal base for operations.

Whale fishery share certificate 1837 (Click to see the full-sized image, opens in a new window or tab) [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]
Whale fishery share certificate 1837

Two whale species were hunted: Sperm Whales, which would yield between 25 and 90 barrels of oil per whale, and Right Whales, providing useful whale bone (a component of corsets, popular at the time). Whale oil provided fuel for lighting, lubricated the machines and made soap and candles. Whale oil was also popular with watchmakers.

To protect supplies of these precious raw materials the British Government provided financial support for whalers. War with France from 1793-1815 was a problem for the whalers, but increased St Helena’s importance as a safe port. To support this, Governor Robert Brooke (1878-1801) proposed the creation of a whale fishing ‘depot’ on St Helena, providing transshipment for whaling products back to Britain.

This nearly all came to nothing when Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in 1815 and Governor Hudson Lowe imposed strict restraints on ships calling at St Helena, but as soon as these were lifted the industry began to take off.

Whalers were popular on St Helena, especially with local taverns and other industries supplying services to men a long way from home. In 1829 22 whaling ships were reported as visiting St Helena: two Americans and twenty British. But this changed over the following 25 years. In 1855 a total of 46 whaling ships called at St Helena, but only three were British. Britain never really took to eating whale meat, and as substitutes were found for whale bone and whale oil, so the industry declined. In 1859 the last cargoes of sperm oil from British vessels were landed in London.

Although unrelated to St Helena, the French had similar problems. In 1851 a law was passed to encourage the trade, at which point the French had seventeen vessels employed in it. The law was not successful. The last French whalers abandoned the South Atlantic in 1868.

Read More

Go to: Article: “A Monster is Landed”Article: “Fishing Festival, 2014”

Article: “A Monster is Landed

Published in the St Helena Independent 5th May 2006{5}{1}

On the morning of the 5th September 1963, Mr Wade, with Messrs Maxwell Fuller and Edward Lawrence, left the Wharf to go on a day’s tunny fishing in boat number 22, owned by Mr Arthur George, of Jamestown. They anchored on the tunny ground off Lighter Rock. They toiled all morning without getting any sign of a tunny around, then at approximately mid-day Mr Wade got a pull on his hard line. At around ten fathoms he hooked a fish, which had taken in a dead mackerel as bait. Immediately the monster took a run; at around 120 yards distant from the boat it partly surfaced, which gave the fishermen an opportunity to identify it. Unmistakably, it was a marlin. The fish continued on the run until it had taken out about 300 yards of a 21-thread hemp line - actually this was a number of lines spliced together.

A Monster is Landed [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

The last time The Wirebird reported the landing of a marlin in St Helena was in April 1956, When Mr P Roscoe, then a Rhodesian farmer, caught and landed a 352 pounder. This does not suggest that a marlin has not been caught and landed here since; we do not know one way or the other. What we do know is that today we have what is certainly a record for St Helena, and that is the account of the catching and landing of a huge black marlin (makaira marlina) caught by Mr Harold Wade of Half Tree Hollow, St Helena, better known as ‘Spady’ Wade. The Wirebird’s reporter interviewed Mr Wade, who gave us the following account of the day’s happenings.

At this point it became less energetic and so the pull to the boat began. After approximately 25 minutes from the time it was hooked, the fish was brought safely and proudly alongside the boat, where it was killed with a stab in the left side. It was then secured to a towline and brought to the wharf.

With the help of 12 men it was landed on the Wharf, where it was measured and weighed by Mr Charles Wade, in the presence of many interested spectators. The overall length was 16ft 4in; the girth was 7ft 4in; the tail span: 5ft 2in; gross weight: 1,106lb, of which 100lb was gut. Unfortunately the back of the head was somewhat chopped away but what remained was later re-weighed at Longwood Farm on a carefully tested Salter scale, and found to be 104lb. From the tip of the nasal spike to the front of the orbit was 39 inches.

After cleaning, the skull will be presented to the British Museum for its study collection. The carcase, having been acquired by the Agriculture & Forestry Department as fertilizer, was removed to Longwood Farm.

Congratulations to Mr Wade for setting up a record for St Helena. Brought to Cape Town by Douglas Yon on 28th November 1963.

Article: “Fishing Festival, 2014

Published in the St Helena Ambassador{6} April 2014{1}

Fishing festival, 2014 [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

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closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]

Laugh at funny fishing humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Fishing]


{a} “Into The Blue”, used with permission{1}.


{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged

{2} Locally known as ‘Jack’.

{3} Commonly known as the Spotted Moray.

{4} It is a widely held view that the SHGFC pays too little per Kg for supplied fish, and that this explains the decline in commercial fishing on St Helena. Recently the SHGFC has started providing commercial fishing boats with subsidised diesel.

{5} From an earlier story in the St Helena Wirebird, date unknown.

{6} Issued by the Government of St Helena Information Office

{7} Map by{1}.





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