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A fishy tale - science aids conservation


University of Leicester biologist Dr Paul Hart has been carrying out a study to reveal the “Biological and Socio-economic Implications of a Limited Access Fishery Management System”, detailing the arguments for and against keeping different methods of fishing apart.

His aim is to discover a fishery management system which will encourage co-operation between stake-holders using the coastal zone. Dr Hart is working on this with two leading scientists from the University of Wales, Bangor (School of Ocean Sciences and School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences), South Devon local trawler organisations and the South Devon & Channel Shell-Fishermen’s Association (SD&CS).

PhD student Robert Blyth (funded by the Isle of Man Government), who is working with Dr Hart on this conservation project, is operating hands-on to collect data aboard South Devon fishing boats. So far, Robert has spent 38 days at sea on 14 different fishing vessels, earning him the respect of local fishermen.

A pattern of data has already been built up which may reveal important seasonal changes in fishing habits, and it is hoped that it may provide a better understanding of the ‘essential fish habitat’, the conditions on the sea bed required for stocks to remain healthy. This not only benefits shellfish, but acts as a conservation measure for species such as scallops, not targeted inside the potting only boxes. The study is also examining how fishers interact with each other on the fishing grounds and how these interactions are influenced by the fishers’ social background.

Local fishermen joined scientists during the late summer aboard the marine science research vessel Prince Madog, to gain a better understanding of the seabed inside and outside the potting only areas. Prince Madog operates by towing a remote video camera, a bottom dredge, and records electronic side scan sonar images.

“This is a proper scientific survey and it will allow us to evaluate the damage to the seabed from potting, trawling and other modes of fishing”, explained Robert Blyth. “There are also theories of crab migration we would like to study further, and accurate catch records from boats working in the potting boxes would give us a tremendous insight into the mystery of crab movements”.

Altogether, the survey hopes to untangle the complex way in which fishers’ behaviour, resource ecology and economics interact in the fishing industry, with the ultimate aim of generating sustainable fisheries management regimes. These are urgently needed if fishing communities are to continue to provide a vital source of employment in rural areas.

Ather Mirza | alfa

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