SCIENCE AND RESEARCH
Science and research are fundamental to the work we do at Eastern IFCA, informing how we manage fisheries and conserve the marine environment. Our Marine Science team monitors the condition of shellfish stocks and the impacts of fishing on marine habitats. We undertake our own first-hand research and keep up to date with current science to apply the findings of relevant studies to our own work.
Our research feeds into:
The assessments of the impacts of fishing on marine protected areas (MPAs);
Management aiming to ensure fisheries are sustainable and operate within the biological limits set out in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive;
Byelaws: We are able to introduce byelaws to manage fisheries and protect MPAs within our district.
Our management aims to ensure fish stocks are kept at sustainable levels. Stock assessments are a key tool that provide us with the biological and fisheries information required to check the health of fish populations and improve the sustainability of our fisheries.
The Wash Cockle and Mussel Stock Assessments
The Wash is one of the most heavily designated marine areas in the UK, but also supports thriving and historic fisheries. Because of this, a lot of our research is focussed on gathering the evidence needed to sustainably manage these fisheries and to help us find the right balance between sustaining a valuable industry and protecting designated species and habitats. For example, each year we survey The Wash mussel and cockle beds.
We conduct cockle surveys in spring, making the most of our time at sea by surveying with a grab over high water, and then by foot at low water. Each year, approximately 1,200 stations are surveyed, with cockles from each station measured, aged, and weighed. We analyse the information collected and produce charts of bed areas and densities. Information that is then used to directly facilitate the management of the cockle fishery.
We undertake mussel surveys by foot in autumn by tracking the perimeter of each bed to record its size, and then collecting information on densities and size distribution by walking transects across beds and collecting samples at set intervals. We use this information to estimate stock size, study changes in beds and facilitate the management of mussel fisheries.
In addition to annual stock assessments, we also survey shellfish beds in The Wash on occasion to check up on the general health of stocks and monitor invasive non-native species.
Whelk Stock Assessment and Size of Maturity Study
The common whelk is widely distributed around the UK and supports an increasingly valuable fishery. Whelk fishing is managed within our district by a permit scheme, anyone who wants to fish for whelks must have a permit and must follow the associated conditions. Among these conditions are requirements for escape gaps in pots, a limit on the number of pots a fisher can use, and a minimum landing size. The minimum landing size (MLS) of whelks in our district is currently 55mm, 10mm greater than the national MLS. To adequately protect spawning stocks of whelks, it is important that only mature whelks that have already had the chance to breed are fished. To ensure that this MLS is right for our fishery, our Science Team study the size of maturity of whelks. With the support of local fishers, we measure the height, width, weight, shell weight, sex and maturity of whelks, and analyse landings data to monitor whelk landings compared to effort put into the fishery.
Crab and Lobster Stock Assessments
Crabs and lobsters are commercially valuable and targeted by many of the fishers throughout the district, particularly on the North Norfolk Coast. Because of this, we have monitored these stocks since the 1990s. Monitoring these stocks involves studying landings figures, regularly sampling landed crabs and lobsters, and on occasion sampling aboard fishing vessels. Over the years we have measured thousands of crabs and lobsters. The data we gather feeds directly into management. For example, to ensure the sustainability of the crab and lobster stocks, we introduced Byelaw 6, which prevents the removal of berried or soft-shelled crabs or lobster from within our district. In 2017, the latter part of this byelaw was written into national legislation preventing vessels from fishing for berried lobsters.
As well as carrying out assessments to manage stock sustainability, we undertake surveys to map the distribution of important habitats. We use it, in combination with modelled data, to accurately characterise the areas we manage and to help us protect certain habitats from fishing-related disturbance. Habitat mapping involves using a SideScan sonar to identify and map seabed features. These include both biological features, like biogenic reefs formed by worms in The Wash, and physical features, like the chalk beds that stretch from Weybourne to Happisburgh. We compare acoustic data gathered with the SideScan to camera footage and seabed grab samples to make sure we correctly interpret the information gathered.
MONITORING FOOD AVAILABILITY FOR SHELLFISH
In 2009, we established a long-term research project called the Study of the Wash Embayment, Environment and Productivity (SWEEP). This project involves collecting mussel meat yield data and basic water quality parameters using a sonde. We use the results from this project to make sure mussels farmed on private lays in The Wash do not cause food limitations for wild beds, and to identify environmental factors that may influence the physiological processes of bivalves.
In addition to our own core research, we collaborate with other organisations wherever possible. Over the years this has included working with other IFCA’s, Cefas, Natural England and various consultancies and academic institutions. Working in close collaboration enhances our capacity to undertake research, allows us to share expertise and experience, increases the reach of projects and helps to deliver impactful outcomes.
If you are interested in collaborating with Eastern IFCA, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in reading more about the research we do, you can browse through some of our Research Reports here.
Last updated: 8th December 2020