We commission and undertake a wide range of projects in support of our policy work towards realising a sustainable, viable and safe future for the industry.
Our research projects fall into 4 main categories: managing regulatory change, evidencing fisheries, marine planning/marine protected areas and safety.
1. Managing Regulatory Change
Discards for Bait (2013-14)
The landing obligation has the potential to generate landings, some of which will not be suitable for human consumption.
A study into the feasibility of using sources of discards generated under the landing obligation for pot bait was completed for Seafish and Defra. This included assessing transportation and logistical considerations and trialling alternative baits in the crab and lobster fisheries.
Typical discard species were found to provide effective bait in the crab fisheries but not in the lobster fisheries. The key driver affecting the use of such sources for bait will likely be cost and the availability of freezing facilities to support the processing of fish not fit for human consumption.
Aligning Spurdog Management with the Landing Obligation under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (2014-2015)
For the last few years spurdog ( Squalus acanthias) has been classified as a zero TAC species but the landing obligation for demersal species from 2016 has the potential to lead to a regulatory incompatibility, threatening to create an unmanageable choke species. One approach is to reclassify spurdog as a prohibited species but this does not address the underlying problem of dead discarding.
Possible alternatives to a zero TAC for spurdog are the focus of a Fisheries Science Partnership project undertaken by the NFFO in collaboration with Cefas. It draws on the idea of communicating real-time "traffic light" information on the aggregations of the species in order to inform avoidance behaviour. In return, this would be incentivised via a small by-catch allowance consistent with continued stock recovery.
The project included a workshop held in London, attended by industry, managers, policy makers and NGOs, to work through the various practical issues associated with the proposal. The intention is to undertake a trial in 2015 in the Celtic Sea. If successful, it may provide a model that could be applied to other potential choke species as the landings obligation is implemented.
2. Evidencing Fisheries
Scoping Industry Approaches to Fully Documented Fisheries (2012-13)
There is an ever greater need in fisheries policy to effectively evidence fisheries in order to underpin science and management. At the same time, new technologies are on the verge of being able to revolutionise the types and quantity of data that can be gathered on board fishing vessels in practical ways for the benefit of industry, scientists and policy-makers.
The NFFO in collaboration with Cefas under the Fisheries Science Partnership sought to evaluate the basis for enabling the use of data sourced from on board fishing vessels and broadening its potential, and moving beyond initial trials using CCTV to implementing a whole host of industry data gathering strategies that may underpin approaches to fully documented fisheries.
The project included as workshop which was successful in bringing together fishermen, scientists, technology experts, retailers and policy-makers in a mature, considered and thoughtful exchange about the future of catch recording.
Enabling evidence streams from the industry and using it on its behalf offers the potential to realise bottom-up co-management of fisheries and increasingly move away from a centralised "one-size fits all" approach that has characterised past policy failings.
North Sea Stock Survey (2002 onwards)
The North Sea Stock Survey is an annual survey of the North Sea industry's assessment of the status of stocks over the last year and changes taking place. Managed by the North Sea Advisory Council the survey is an innovative approach to systematically gathering fishermen's knowledge, which has now generated a time series going back to 2002. We continue to routinely gather inputs from our North Sea members as part of the survey.
Annual Fisheries Reports (2009, 2011)
Policy makers and the scientific community usually have only a limited knowledge and understanding of how fishing businesses are coping and responding to regulatory measures. This project pioneered a systematic reporting framework on the status of fishing operations and responses to regulation in order to feed back to the scientific and policy communities.
3. Marine Planning and Marine Protected Areas
UK Fishermen's Information Mapping Project (UKFIM) (2012-13)
Fish plotters are routinely used in the industry in order to plan and run fishing operations. The data is unparalleled in its level of detail on the spatial operation of fishing vessels. In circumstances of increasing competition for marine space and the need for more systematic marine planning ( see blog), it offers a valuable source of information for evidencing the location and interpreting the importance of fisheries.
Working alongside the Crown Estate, we gathered and processed a broad spectrum of fish plotter data, sourced from both the domestic industry and that from neighbouring European states, for integration into the Crown Estate's GIS system to enable systematic analysis of the data. The data is now available to support leasing functions within the Crown Estate and for prospective developers to better understand fisheries within potential locations of marine development.
The project also supported the fitting of inshore VMS systems on board small scale vessels in order to support their evidencing needs.
Fishing Spatio-Temporal Pressures and Sensitivities Analysis for MPAs (2013-14)
This project sought to advance methodologies to understand the spatial distribution, footprint and intensity of fishing activities in the context of marine planning and MPA fisheries management planning. This included analysis and comparison of VMS records together with fish plotter data from UKFIM in order to validate applications of the former and to assess the extent to which fishing grounds can be delineated using both sets of data.
Gear experts were also brought together to define gear component specifications for fisheries operating on the Dogger Bank and develop a methodology for translating the operation of gear components into physical seabed pressures.
The project was undertaken in collaboration with Cefas and Seafish under the Fisheries Challenge Fund.
Fishing Industry Multibeam Sidescan Sonar Marine Habitats Survey Trial (2011-12)
Involving the fishing industry in gathering evidence and in the monitoring of MPAs provides a potential means to offset the impact of more restrictive fisheries management measures, whilst also encouraging buy-in to the management of the site. The multibeam side scan trial was a pilot to help to gauge the feasibility of fishing vessels being used for this type of seabed survey.
Changes to Fishing Practices around the UK as a result of the Development of Offshore Wind Farms (2014-15)
Although the scale of offshore wind farm planning in UK waters is considerable, there is currently little concrete evidence about the extent to which fishing activity will re-locate within the vicinity of installations and under what conditions. A definitive answer is only possible by examining the activities of the fishing industry once projects have been installed.
The NFFO conducted a pilot study on behalf of the Crown Estate focusing on the Eastern Irish Sea offshore wind farm installations. Findings suggest that fishing activity within OWF boundaries has changed, primarily because fishermen are fearful of fishing gear becoming entrapped by seabed obstacles such as cables, cable crossing points and rock armouring, and wary of vessel breakdown with the consequent risk of turbine collision. However, fishing was found to co-exist with OWFs. A small number of fishermen claimed to operate demersal trawl gear in cable-free corridors between the turbines (for example where interarray cables ran parallel to the trawl tracks). Other fishermen thought confidence to operate inside OWFs would increase as experience and knowledge of those who do increased. Measures suggested by respondents that could help to increase the level of co-existence between the fishing and offshore wind farm industry included: better knowledge of seabed hazards and their location; fishing-friendly methods of cable protection; monitoring of risks and exposure; and regular communication and knowledge exchange between wind farm developers / maintenance companies and fishers.
Supporting Risk-Based Assessments of Fisheries in MPAs (2015)
This project aimed to support the evidence base underpinning risk assessments of fisheries operating in the vicinity of MPAs. The research provided greater insight into the environmental impacts of fisheries in two main ways – one assessing how fishing activity affects MPA habitats, the other assessing how environmental conditions do the same.
Firstly, it trialled ways to reduce uncertainties in understanding the distribution and intensity of mobile gear fishing activities while also analysing the effects of fishing gears on habitats and species. Secondly, it modelled the physical disturbance of seabed sediments from wave and tidal action that influences the habitats of the MPAs. This provides further insight into the environmental context in which the fishing activities are taking place, ensuring that disturbance from fishing is considered in the context of levels of natural disturbance that the habitats and species are adapted to.
Research outputs include:
Updating Industry Guidance on Potting Rollers and Haulers (2011-12)
Pot fisheries are one of the most dangerous types of fisheries as the hauling and deployment of pots can be particularly hazardous. This project reviewed the use of pot rollers and provided recommendations for updating Seafish's technical guidance for fishermen and boat builders in order to minimise risk.