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Q COVER STORY


proportion of discards in cases where it would be disproportionately expensive to fishermen to land the fish. At time of press these exemptions were being proposed for common sole, nephrops and whiting. Another proposal is for weighted value


attributed to catches with choke stocks placed at the higher end. This would let fishermen self-police to maximise the catch of the fish they are actually aiming for. However, critics argue that if market demand for the choke stocks increases, the weighted value system provides an economic incentive and lessens the penalties for fishermen to pursue these species. A suggested compromise is to regularly assess and adjust the weighting of each stock to ensure that the likelihood of it being economically viable to target a choke species is kept low.


Call for co-operation 22


One of the biggest flies in the ointment for fisheries is a perceived disconnect between the scientific knowledge on which incoming regulation is based and anecdotal evidence gathered by fishermen. In some cases a lack of data prevents rigorous statistical analysis and leads regulators to adopt a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to quotas. This can chafe for the fishermen who find their hands tied by well-intentioned but ill-informed authorities. However, a pilot project being carried out


by Seascope Fisheries Research through the auspices of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) may pave the way for a closer alliance between the fishermen and scientists. This bridge-building project will entail


scientists analysing video footage from vessels operating in inshore crustacean and mollusc fisheries on the Scottish West coast. This lets them assess the waters in a manner similar to the fishermen (see Table 1), while allowing data to be gathered regularly and on a budget. It also builds the scientific community’s trust in the fishermen’s knowledge of the fish, sex rates, discard rates etc, while the fishermen will be reassured that there is a real-life foundation for the incoming regulation.


Monitoring catches


In particular, the use of monitoring equipment (in this case supplied by Canadian company Archipelago Marine Research and installed on inshore crabbers, potters and scallopers) allows fishermen to self-sample catches on a


Fishing for information


In 1883 eminent English biologist Thomas Huxley asserted that marine fisheries were ‘inexhaustible’, effectively rendering any attempt to regulate – or manage – them pointless. Sadly we know this to be wrong. Population modelling, quotas and maximum sustainable yield estimates have advanced rapidly for bony fish, but there has been a steep learning curve for sharks (including skates and rays, that make up the subclass elasmobranchii). Conservative biological traits in sharks (such as late maturity, long gestation periods, few offspring, and longevity) make these top predators more vulnerable to over-exploitation than almost


all other marine fishes. Yet, until the mid-1990s, north east Atlantic shark fisheries remained unmanaged and unrestricted – an approach with echoes of Huxley. Consequently many


northeast Atlantic species – including the Porbeagle Shark, Flapper Skate, Spiny Dogfish and the deep-sea sharks – were fished at levels far exceeding their natural rate of population increase, leading to acute population declines, and massive contraction of range. This year’s assessment of the conservation status of all marine fishes in European waters reflects this: as a group, the elasmobranchs are well represented on the Red List. They have the


highest percentage of threatened species – 40% of the 132 species known to occur in the region. Our growing knowledge of shark populations and fisheries management has focused on protecting and rebuilding the populations most at risk and encouraging sustainable fisheries for those able to support them. But as effective management often goes hand-in-hand with legislation, fishermen are faced with more shark-related rules and regulations.


To assist the fishing industry, the Shark Trust is producing and distributing annual Commercial Fisheries Advisories (see www. sharktrust.org/advisories).


Table 1: Seascope Fisheries Research project Target species


Data collected


crab, velvet crab, scallop, number of strings of pots, lobsters and Nephrops


bait information, soak time, discard rates, sex ratios, actual catches brought on board


Vessels participating : 11


regular basis. They can also use their knowledge to report back when they notice unexpected changes. This provides scientists with a clear idea of what is happening in the waters as close to real-time as possible, meaning that – in theory – the quota levels could expand and contract to accurately fit existing conditions rather than those that may be out of date. This project not only has the potential to level the playing field, but actually


puts regulators and fishermen on the same side as they would be working towards a common goal of correctly assessing condi- tions and maximising the TCA. Fishermen playing by the rules stand to significantly benefit from the use of onboard cameras as the video footage can be used to exonerate them in case they are accused of improper fishing, while also encouraging them to meet standards. The footage can also be used by insurance companies in case of accidents (Ed: see Scuttlebutt’s amusing take on advice from insurance companies). It is also of note that vessel location data


(usually GPS) will provide researchers an extra layer of information for species-tracking, allowing them to pinpoint where the vessel was at the time of the catch and thus track the behaviour and movement of species.


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