Volunteer skippers fishing out of England and Wales are needed to contribute to fisheries data usually collected by scientific observers. Current Covid-19 restrictions mean that Cefas fisheries observers are not able to board commercial fishing vessels to go to sea. This partnership with industry will build on pilots commencing this month with the Northeast trawl fleet, Southeast netter fleet and Southwest beamer fleet.
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.
NFFO Chief Executive, Barrie Deas, said:
“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.
There is potential, however, 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 and is able to make more decisions about the management of stocks within its waters, it is important to be confident in the evidence and the data collected that advise those decisions.
Cefas Fisheries Scientist, Jon Elson said:
“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. 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.”
An inconvenience payment of £25 per haul sampled capped at £200 per trip will be paid and a report on the data collected will be provided to each skipper sampled. Cefas will report on on achievements in early 2021.