Aquaculture for all

Summer Of Surveys Ahead For NAFC Marine Centre

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UK - The NAFC Marine Centre has announced major sea-based surveys to be conducted this year in Shetland waters, each of which has been developed in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders to improve our knowledge of commercial fish stocks and the environment.

The Centre’s Scalloway-based vessels Atlantia II and Moder Dy will be active all around the isles throughout the spring, summer and autumn months as staff from the Department of Marine Science and Technology gather information for three specific initiatives.

The first of the surveys which began this week is utilising side scan sonar and a drop camera to survey the current extent of ‘sensitive habitats’ within areas that the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) has voluntarily closed to dredging activity.

The side scan sonar makes an accurate 3 dimensional picture of the seabed and can also discriminate between habitat types.

The NAFC Marine Centre agreed to survey the closed areas for the SSMO to ensure that the data that they have been based on is accurate and corresponds to maerl or horse mussel beds, both of which are defined as important in the EU ‘Habitats Directive’.

Co-ordinator for the survey, Dr Richard Shelmerdine said: “Some of the data on which the position of the beds and corresponding closed areas has been based are quite dated. This work is important to ensure that sensitive habitats are conserved, but also in ensuring the good fishing grounds are not closed to protect something that is not there. In addition, some SSMO members have given us information on previously unknown beds, and we will be also trying to define those as we work our way around the islands.”

Generating independent stock size estimates for the extremely important local king scallop fishery will be the purpose of the second large scale survey planned this summer.

The recent assessment visit in relation to the ongoing Marine Stewardship Council accreditation that includes this species highlighted that the establishment of an annual stock assessment exercise would strengthen the case that the stock was being carefully monitored to determine the level of sustainability.

The survey will also collect detailed information on by-catch species, those that are caught incidentally along with scallop in commercial dredges.

Dr Chevonne Laurenson from the NAFC Marine Centre, who will be co-ordinating this survey, said: “Independent directed surveys are recognised as a very effective way to estimate stock size. We hope to be able to build an annual time series of survey results by conducting them each year at the same time and in the same way. This will provide a very strong index of stock health, especially when we already work with the SSMO members to monitor landings per unit effort from their logbook returns.”

July and August will see the Atlantia II carrying out a survey on whitefish species around Shetland, profiling the distribution and abundance of both adult and juvenile species from shallow to deep water.

Survey co-ordinator Dr Ian Napier described how the overall aim was similar to that of the scallop survey above; to establish a repeatable annual survey to estimate fish abundance and distribution that could be used as an index of stock health as data builds up over the years.

He added: “Although we have core areas where we will conduct the same survey each year, we will also hold some days back to survey areas where fishermen report high abundances or significant decreases in fish. Local knowledge is an important element that we wish to incorporate into all of our work in the future.”

Summarising the busy survey season ahead, Head of Marine Science and Technology, Dr Martin Robinson said: “The NAFC Marine Centre is happy to use resources to conduct this work as in each case the data will be used to support local industry, and that is what we are here for.

"The Marine Science strategy is to utilise its staff and resources to collect information that incorporates fishermen’s knowledge and/or promotes the development of more robust local and regional management of exploitable resources and the environment.

"Each of these surveys will require significant effort, but the outcomes are intended to keep Shetland ahead of the curve in relation to innovation in resource management.”