Skippers in England and Wales are needed to contribute to fisheries data usually collected by scientific observers, as current Covid-19 restrictions mean that Cefas fisheries observers are not able to board commercial fishing vessels to go to sea.
Cefas has been collecting biological data from commercial landings at fish markets, merchants and on quaysides in England and Wales since the 1950s. The observer programme which also collects the same data from discards offshore has been running continuously since 2002. In March, the lockdown brought this activity to a halt. The onshore programme was able to resume safely in June, however, the at sea observer programme is still severely restricted.
Now a partnership with industry will build on pilots commencing this month with the north-east trawl fleet, the south-east netter fleet and the south-west beamer fleet.
‘The Covid crisis has disturbed the way in which scientists collect the data that provides the raw material for fish stock assessments. Without good data we cannot expect good management decisions and the risk of tighter restrictions through the application of a precautionary approach is increased,’ said NFFO Chief Executive Barrie Deas.
‘There is potential to turn this problem into an opportunity by increasing the industry’s direct involvement in the provision of data. The result could be greater industry confidence that they have had a part in undertaking.’
The at sea observer programme is the only source of biological discard data that, combined with the onshore data, feeds into the annual round of fish stock assessments to inform advice on catch options, quotas and fisheries management. While COVID restrictions continue, the gap in the observer data continues to grow which could affect the advice for 2022, and longer-term potentially. As the UK becomes an independent coastal state, it becomes increasingly important to be confident in the evidence and the data collected that advise those decisions.
‘We are working with the fishing industry, to set up a temporary programme, so that individual vessels can bring back samples for our observers to process ashore,’ commented Cefas Fisheries Scientist Jon Elson.
‘We are currently piloting this approach, before extending the programme to the wider fleet. The quality of these data is crucial, if it is to be useful. We will work with the industry to ensure that what we ask is practical, reasonable, avoids disruption and, importantly, produces effective data.’
He added that those taking part will be contributing to the important pool of data that will be used for assessments that inform catch options and advice on fisheries management, and stated that fishermen’s data will be protected.
‘Information obtained about the activities of fishermen, either from fishermen themselves, or by Cefas staff in the course of their duties, will be retained and used for scientific purposes only,’ he said.
A report on the data collected will be provided to each skipper sampled. Cefas will report on our achievements in early 2021. We hope to develop a consistent manageable programme by the end of this year to continue into next year.
‘We would be very interested to hear from anyone who has not been sampled in the last three years to broaden the data available to us,’ he said.
Interested skippers can contact AFSTcosampling@cefas.co.uk, and visit Cefas’ website to download an information leaflet.