Fishermen-Led Initiative Identifies Research Priorities to Avoid Shark, Skate and Ray By-catch

11 February 2016, at 12:00am

UK - Celebrating eight months of fishermen-led participatory research around the UK coast, the second phase of the Shark By-Watch UK project run by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), but led by fishermen, held a concluding workshop on the 17th December 2015.

The Shark By-Watch UK 2 project released a new report: “Research priorities: innovative solutions for preventing by-catch and dead-discards of threatened sharks, skates and rays” – drawing on expertise from across industry, the retail supply chain, science and NGOs.

Commenting on his experiences as part of the Shark By-Watch UK 2 initiative, Thames Estuary inshore fisherman, Stuart Moss, said: “We hope that our involvement in this project will lead to greater coordination of knowledge between fishermen & scientists to fully understand the thornback ray population in the Thames Estuary so that it can be better managed, hopefully on a more local level. We hope working together like this will be to the benefit of the thornback ray population in our local area, in turn supporting a healthy stock and the future of inshore fishermen such as ourselves.”

The concluding event in December included fishermen from across the UK, as well NGO, science and national retail representatives - and served as the launch of the new report, which identifies key issues and highlights important research priorities related to elasmobranch (shark, skate and ray) by-catch.

Concluding with five concrete recommendations for policy-makers and funders, the report focuses on four key species: spurdog, common skate, porbeagle and basking shark.

The report and recommendations were developed through a day of in-depth discussions as part of a Shark By-Watch UK 2 workshop on threatened elasmobranch by-catch, and months of fisher-led data gathering, including participatory tagging programmes.

For the purpose of a dedicated field study, which provided insights for the report, and the report itself, ‘threatened’ refers to ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ species as defined by the IUCN. The field study centred on fisheries in the Celtic Sea, with vessels from the Cornish port of Newlyn participating.

A key theme running throughout the report is the need for more data on numbers, locations, and behaviours of the species discussed. Cefas scientist Stuart Hetherington explains why this is so important to ensuring a future for both fishermen and elasmobranchs, threatened or otherwise: “It is vital that more up-to-date information is collected to feed into fisheries and conservation policy for sharks, skates and rays. Projects such as Shark By-Watch UK 2 work with fishermen, using their knowledge, fishing vessels and gears to efficiently gather information on numbers and locations of sharks, skates and rays. A better understanding of the species we’re studying can lead to better management for the future of the species and for fishermen.”

The report provides practical advice, drawing on fishers’ experiences, to develop measures for by-catch avoidance of species such as spurdog. It emphasizes the importance of using fisher knowledge in research initiatives, as well as trialing innovative technologies and management measures to advance understanding and prevention of economically and environmentally costly unwanted shark, skate and ray by-catch.

With delegates at the final Shark By-Watch UK 2 workshop in December agreeing that further research in this area – and other areas related to securing sustainable elasmobranch fisheries into the future – is required, the project will be looking to secure funding for a longer-term, third phase of the research.

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