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Improving the evidence base for fishing activity management

ABPmer is trialing ways to reduce uncertainties in data relating to the distribution and intensity of fishing activities and the effects of fishing gears on habitats and species.


Defra’s revised approach to managing commercial fisheries activity in European Marine Sites (EMSs) requires Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to assess the impacts of fisheries on all designated features and habitats within EMSs in England.

This is to ensure that all existing and potential commercial fishing activities are carried out in accordance with the provisions of Article 6 of the European Union Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. This approach will also apply to Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

ABPmer is carrying out a project in collaboration with Ichthys Marine Ecological Consulting Ltd on behalf of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), to trial ways to reduce uncertainties in data relating to the distribution and intensity of fishing activities and the effects of fishing gears on habitats and species. This will establish the potential to improve the evidence base used for fishing activity assessments in EMSs and is expected to have benefits both for conservation interests and for the future of the fishing industry.

Three fishery/EMS combinations are being considered by the project:

  • Otter trawling in Margate and Long Sands SCI;
  • Shrimp trawling in The Wash and North Norfolk Coast SAC; and
  • Beam trawling in North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SCI.

The project is carrying out Appropriate Assessments for these fishing activities in these sites, based on existing evidence, and will then explore a range of other data sources and approaches that could improve the evidence and reduce uncertainty in the assessments.

A Fishing Gear Impacts Workshop is being held later this month, which will bring together gear experts, ecology experts, regulators, advisors and industry, to consider the impacts of the gears in use in the sites, in the context of the habitats and species present, and levels of natural disturbance.

In addition, the use of VMS data combined with gear footprint and impact information is being explored to assess over-15m vessels’ fishing patterns and intensity. Interviews have also been carried out with skippers and owners of under-15m vessels to take into account fishing activity and intensity from this sector of the fleet in the sites.

The Appropriate Assessments will be updated in the light of the evidence gathered through these approaches, in order to assess their usefulness and value as tools for improving the evidence base in the ongoing review of fishing activities in sites around the English coast. The study complements the work being undertaken by the IFCAs and MMO and will help to inform the formal Appropriate Assessments that these bodies are required to carry out.

The project is funded by the European Fisheries Fund and the Sea Fish Industry Authority.