A collaborative effort involving industry and government is planned to provide stock assessments in English waters for king scallops.
The king scallops (Pecten maximus) is England’s most valuable wild capture species, and the UK fleet landed something close to £17 million worth of scallops from English waters in 2016, according to provisional MMO data.
Now a new, collaborative project between the fishing industry and government fisheries scientists aims to determine stock status for these valuable scallop stocks for the first time.
The project sees Cefas and the fishing industry’s catching and processing sectors working closely together to design, test and refine data collection methods to fill the gaps in current knowledge. This is expected ultimately to inform a long-term strategy for data collection which, when conducted every year, will enable regular stock assessments to inform decisions about future management of these important stocks.
‘From a commercial perspective, it is critical to have current and accurate stock information on an on-going basis and I am delighted to be able to be involved in this project as it aims to yield exactly that,’ said Jim Portus, vice-chair of the Project Board and Chief Executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation.
‘It is particularly heartening that this is a collaborative project between industry and Cefas. There are already demonstrable direct benefits of this project in terms of well-informed engagement, but I also see great benefit in building trust which only bodes well for the future of these important fisheries. The project board are urging all vessels to participate.’
Fishery management in the absence of robust stock assessments is likely to rely on the precautionary principle which tends to be more cautious, and experience shows, often results in reduced fishing activity. Another risk is that poorly-informed management decisions can end up allowing too much fishing for the size of the fish stock, leading to undesirable reduction of the fish stock and lower productivity. Either of these situations could have significant economic and social implications for the UK scallop industry.
The project relies on two new data sources to provide data for comprehensive and robust stock assessments. Dredge surveys will provide distribution and abundance estimates in fishable areas, coupled with the use of underwater TV to explore scallop abundance in unfishable and unexploited areas. A biological sampling programme, co-designed with the industry catchers and processors, will provide the age composition of scallops caught, and this will be used to estimate mortality rates due to fishing. Computer models will then be used to interpret changes in observed numbers at age and to estimate mortality, which will allow scientists to predict the response of the stocks to fishing mortality and possible management measures.
Scoping work for the project was carried out during 2016 to identify and resolve potential issues associated with the new data sources. Now in its second year, the project will refine sampling and monitoring schemes and test their appropriateness for stock assessment and management. It will also see the first full assessment of the stocks in the English Channel delivered. Feedback on results will help to ensure that the assessments satisfy both industry and scientific scrutiny.
Priority for the 2017 work will be the main English fisheries in the English Channel and Celtic Sea, providing funding is available, and the scheme will be expanded to include other fisheries in the North Sea and Irish Sea. Dredge surveys and underwater TV surveys are due to commence in May.
A Project Steering Board chaired by Seafish and including the fishing and processing sectors, Cefas, Defra, and the MMO has been formed to oversee the project plan and to ensure delivery of the objectives. Co-ownership of the outcomes from the project is the responsibility of both Cefas and the fishing industry and is leading to mutual trust and confidence in the results produced.
The fishing industry members provide fishing knowledge and expertise, as well as other services including charter vessels, crew and shore based staff to facilitate the biological sampling programme. Cefas are providing project management, scientific input and contact with the wider scientific community for accreditation of the work (through the ICES scallop working group). This project has been funded to date by fishing industry representatives on the Steering Board, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), Fishing into the Future (via a Seafish grant) and Defra.
Wider industry participation in this project is required to ensure that this project delivers what the industry are aiming for – a well-informed fisheries management plan which would reduce the risk of unsustainable exploitation, and avoid overly cautious harvest control rules based on the precautionary principle.