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DEFRA Science Advisory Group

Jan 04,2007 SACN

In September of last year, SACN's Leon Roskilly was invited to attend the newly formed DEFRA Science Advisory Group for their first meeting.

Invitations to join the SAG were on a personal basis, not as a representative of any particular organisation and invitations were issued on the basis of past participation in various stakeholder forums dealing with Marine Science issues.

The minutes of the first meeting have just been issued by DEFRA.

The next meeting of the SAG will probably be in March

Marine Fisheries Science Advisory Group

Record of the first meeting

28th September 2006, Water UK, London

Michel Kaiser
Julian Addison (Presenter)
Stephen Atkins
Paul Leonard
Helen Beadman
John Lock
Bryce Beukers-Stewart
Alan McCulla
Doug Beveridge
Cliff Morrison
Zoë Bond (Minutes)
Jo Myers
Robin Cook
Chris Ninnes
Tim Dapling
Mike Park
Euan Dunn
Nicholas Polunin
Chris Frid
Leon Roskilly
Lindsay Harris
John Shepherd (Chair)
Joe Horwood
Helen Shaw
Simon Jennings (Presenter)


Manuel Barange
Robert Blyth-Skyrme
Paddy Campbell
Hazel Curtis
Helen Davies
Gary Hodgson
Sam Lambourn
Fred Normandale
Glyn Perryman
Lachlan Stuart
Mark Tasker
Scott Wharton

1. Welcome and introductions

John Shepherd welcomed everybody to the first meeting of the Marine Fisheries Science Advisory Group and initiated a round of introductions. 

John explained that the group’s formation was an outcome of the Defra Fisheries Science Seminar held in Spring 2005 and that the role of the group was to advise Defra Sea Fisheries Conservation Division on its’ Sustainable Marine Fisheries Science Programme. 

John noted that the meeting would be an opportunity for the group to also influence the decisions made in relation to the Marine Fisheries Science Programme.

Lindsay Harris thanked everybody for their attendance at the meeting. 

Lindsay explained that the R&D work to be discussed by the group was only part of the total science activity that Defra funds in this area. 

He explained the monitoring and assessment work carried out by Cefas, the Fisheries Science Partnership (FSP) launched by ministers in collaboration with the NFFO to add to the monitoring and assessment work by using fishing vessels to undertake surveys, and the Ad Hoc science budget designed to fund short term one off projects. 

2. Outline of proposed sustainable marine fisheries research programme

John Lock described the role of evidence in fisheries management and outlined the proposed structure for future Sustainable Marine Fisheries Research, which comprises 3 programmes. 

- MF10 ‘Impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem

- MF11 ‘Effects of the environment on fish stocks’ 

- MF12 ‘Fisheries management’. 

He also drew attention to some of the wider considerations and constraints which need to be taken into account when developing a research programme for fisheries. 

These include maintaining research capability, prioritising research areas because of budget constraints, and funding research collaboratively with other sponsors. 

3. Descriptions of proposed priority areas for new R&D followed by discussions on proposals within each topic area.

3.1. MF10 Impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem

Simon Jennings outlined the MF10 research programme and the individual proposed projects within this programme.

MF10-1 Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries

The aim of this project is to develop and pilot an ecosystem approach to fisheries in the southwest. 

Management systems needed to promote sustainable fisheries consistent with a diverse and resilient marine environment will be developed. 

The project will involve the development, testing and reporting of indicators and the development of decision tables to show the effects of different management options.
MF10-1 Discussions

Mike Kaiser noted that the decision tables to be developed within this project would be populated with biological information and he asked whether social and economic factors would be considered. 

On a broader scale Mike asked how Defra would ensure the integration of social and economic considerations into the research programme. 

Simon Jennings replied that it might be possible to draw on the experiences of the Invest in Fish project and that the project team would consider bringing in economics directly.

Following on from Mike Kaiser’s point, Doug Beveridge commented that MF10-1 concentrated on fish stock issues rather than fisheries issues. 

Laurie Kell responded describing how the MF12 research programme should address these concerns as this programme would be studying the economics of management issues and would look at the impacts on fisheries and not just on fish stocks.

Robin Cook commented that the indicators portion of the project seemed to be achievable but he questioned how successful the decision tables would be. 

Robin questioned how feasible it was to say that a given management action would move an indicator in a certain direction.

John Shepherd asked whether indicators of non-target species could include sea birds. 

Simon Jennings replied that within the project outline fish had been specified but it might be possible to consider birds.

Chris Ninnes expressed concerns over the spatial resolution of mapping and questioned whether enough information would be available to enable decision-making trees to be developed. 

Simon Jennings replied that for the southwest he was unsure if sufficient data would be available but for the North Sea, a previous project had been successful using physical parameters as indicators of habitat status. 

With regard to the spatial resolution concerns, Simon acknowledged the challenges, as the project would be working with grid cells on the order of kilometres rather than a few square metres.

Joe Horwood outlined the importance of this project in relation to the EU Marine Directive and noted that this project enabled us to continue to inform the European agenda.

Mike Kaiser questioned how decision tables developed for local areas or communities would fit into a European context as they would not inform us on fish management in a wider context. 

Simon Jennings replied that the project would enable us to decompose the relative impacts of different metiers and give guidance on a local or regional scale on the acceptable or unacceptable impacts of specific fleets. 

Simon stated that it would be possible to translate the findings across to a different area if similar metiers operated there.

In response to questions on how the project might be useful in a European context, Lindsay Harris mentioned the Invest in Fish Southwest project, which has highlighted the importance of this area to European scale considerations.

Stephen Atkins pointed out that MF10-1 appeared to be the most challenging project of all those proposed but noted that the ecosystem approach had to be covered. 

As the success of this project hangs on the indicators developed, Stephen expressed the need for a break point to assess the indicators before continuation of the project. 

John Shepherd noted that future meetings could be used to assess how project plans were developing or how projects were progressing.

Chris Frid supported the choice of the southwest for MF10-1 and highlighted the importance on building on previous work that had been carried out in this area.

Paul Leonard expressed an interest in this project from Defra’s Marine Environment Science Unit and mentioned the possibility of collaboration.

Returning to the earlier economics discussion, Mike Kaiser noted that the Invest in Fish project had concentrated on the traditional economic impacts on fishing communities. 

He stated that it was important to also consider the economic value of other things such as cultural issues relating to the fishing industry and biodiversity and noted that these areas were more difficult to quantify. 

Euan Dunn made two comments on the MF10-1 project. 

Firstly, he commented on the huge amount of work already completed on the ecosystem approach plan for the North Sea and stated that developing fisheries ecosystem plans for all regions was a good effort. 

Secondly, Euan stated that one of the biggest challenges in the southwest would be getting all member states to furnish information on tangle netting and this project would be a good opportunity to address this challenge.

Joe Horwood stated that those involved in the MF10-1 project were aware of the state of indicators research on an international level and therefore there would be no duplication of work already achieved in this area. 

Joe addressed Mike Kaiser’s comments stating that the economic value of biodiversity was extremely important but difficult to address. 

Joe highlighted that not all Marine issues were the responsibility of the Marine Fisheries managers and biodiversity would be under the remit of Defra’s Marine Wildlife Division.   

MF10-2 Practical steps towards reducing discards and developing more environmentally friendly fisheries

The aims of this project are to provide support to policy and industry in developing effective and workable discard mitigation solutions, and to identify and develop new, more environmentally friendly fishing methods, technologies and gear modifications.

MF10-2 Discussions

Robin Cook brought to the group’s attention the history of technical gear related measures. 

He stated that in the past research into more selective gear had identified possible solutions but these measures have not been developed by the industry due to economics. 

Robin said that it was worth finding out the causes of discarding, including economic factors, to enable a more directed approach in establishing what an effective gear modification was. 

For example, there may be a need to fish by catch to stay economically viable and Robin said it was important to look at the reasons behind this issue rather than focus only on selectivity. 

In response, Lindsay Harris agreed with Robin’s analysis and stated that fundamental to this issue was economic motivation. 

Lindsay added that MF10-2 would be a continuation project and was now a very applied piece of research that involved working closely with commercial fishermen to look at how to apply gear modifications. 

In discussions, it was noted that the challenge in this area was not technical but the uptake in the commercial fishing world. 

Alan McCulla stressed the need for collaboration and asked how big the discard problem really was. 

He explained that in some areas discards had been significantly reduced and that they were not being reduced much further with the introduction of new methods.

Alan stated that there was always room for improvement but questioned how significant the current improvements were.

Chris Morrison, representing the fish processing sector, stated that discards were the biggest problem in fisheries and he welcomed this project and supported the work.

Chris Frid highlighted the issue of post escapee mortality and the need to know what is happening on the seafloor and in addition to what is landed on deck.

Leon Roskilly stated that currently areas of the seas are not fished as discard levels are too high, he noted that this research has the potential of opening up these areas to fishing with associated positive and negative effects and stated that it was important to research these other aspects. 

Laurie Kell replied that the MF12 fisheries management programme would evaluate the wider context of MF10-2 research.

Alan McCulla questioned the type of fishing gear that was wanted and noted the issuing of grants to fishermen to encourage them to use gears that didn’t interfere with the seabed. 

Alan stated that in the past the semi-pelagic trawl had been used and this had no impact on the seabed but was thought to be too efficient and too clean a fishery.

In concluding the MF10 project discussions, John Shepherd asked for a vote on whether the group thought these were good projects and should be undertaken.  Everyone agreed that these research projects should be carried out.

3.2. MF11 Effects of the environment on fish stocks

Julian Addison described the MF11 research programme and the individual proposed projects within this programme.

MF11-1 Climate change ��" impacts on early life stages

The aim of this project is to understand how the distribution of fish larvae has changed in relation to long-term changes in the environment. 

For example, do different species of fish respond to changes in the environment in different ways? And, are some species more flexible than others?

MF11-2 Finfish biological processes

The project’s aim is to improve the understanding of population biology and ecology for key fish species (e.g. cod, sole, bass, sharks and rays). 

The relationships between fish population sub-units in spawning areas, on nursery grounds and on feeding grounds will be investigated and the contribution of the environment to year on year variation will be studied. 

The project will provide the biological knowledge necessary to improve the management of fish populations against a broad range of policy objectives, to minimise the risk of stock collapse and to develop spatial management approaches.

MF11-3 Movements of edible crabs and the implications for management

The aims of this project are to investigate the stock structure of crabs in the English Channel; to gather information on larvae distribution, the hydrography of the area and the distribution of the adult population and the fisheries; and to study the detailed movements of mature adult crabs. 

This work is critical to understanding the crab stock structure, providing advice on fisheries management and investigating the impact of other seabed uses.

MF11-4 Scallop recruitment and settlement processes in the English Channel

This project aims to investigate the physical and biological processes driving recruitment and settlement in scallops. 

The project will provide a good knowledge of adult distributions and fishery dynamics and is necessary to provide advice on scallop stock management particularly with reference to spatial management plans.

MF11 Discussions (covering MF11-1, MF11-2, MF11-3 and MF11-4)

Leon Roskilly noted that there was little about ocean acidification or the effect on organisms of changing chemical composition of the water column which were both important areas for research. 

Leon also highlighted the issue of sea level rise and loss of important habitat. 

John Shepherd supported the recommendation for research on ocean acidification and suggested a project on the effect of pH changes on fertilisation success.

Paul Leonard explained that research was being undertaken by Defra on ocean acidification through the Marine Environment Division but noted that there was no research ongoing on fish larvae. 

Paul also described research relating to Leon’s queries being undertaken by the Marine Environment Division on endocrine disruption and also on sea level rise and the use of sediments.

Doug Beveridge asked what the relationship was in this programme between past projects and proposed projects, and whether there would be follow on to the study of adult stock populations? 

Lindsay Harris provided clarification on the policy drivers behind this set of proposals. 

He stated that the aim was to shift the emphasis more towards shellfish due to the commercial importance of shellfish stocks to English fisheries. 

Mike Kaiser welcomed the research focussing on crabs and scallops (MF11-3 and MF11-4) as research in these areas was required. 

Mike noted the current focus on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and stated that these research proposals on shellfish were exactly what was needed to underpin the progression with MPAs.

John Shepherd asked the group whether there were any species that had been overlooked? 

Jo Myers stressed the importance of studying non commercial species.

Tim Dapling noted that it was important to recognise the dynamic taking place with climate change and highlighted the increases in black bream and red mullet. 

Tim also noted the importance of the whelk commercially.

Stephen Atkins stated that further research was needed on cockles and mussels.

Stephen noted that the recruitment of these bivalves is linked to long, cold winters and wind direction. 

Currently, there are no cockles in Morecombe Bay as they have not recruited for two years and the reasons behind this are poorly understood but do not appear to be due to over fishing. 

Stephen followed up by asking if it were possible to identify shellfish larvae from the CPR plankton data. 

In discussions it was noted that CPR data are currently specified as bivalve larvae or crab larvae but with no speciation but that it should be possible to identify these larvae down to species level as they don’t swim as fast as fish larvae and so tend to be better preserved. 

Tim Dapling welcomed the research on crabs and scallops but stressed the importance of mussels to the northwest region. 

He mentioned the offshore sublittoral mussel beds there and stated that research needed to be carried out on these mussel beds to identify and quantify this resource. 

Tim proposed the question of whether these beds should be left intact as biogenic reefs or be harvested as a resource?

Nick Polunin suggested more research should be carried out on lobsters as in the northeast of England these were the main target species.

Leon Roskilly stated the importance of investigating the non target species such as flounder, dab, mullet and wrasse. 

Leon stated that flounder catches this year had been very disappointing and no one knows why. 

In response to this point, Mike Kaiser stated that there was no reason why Defra could not initiate some stakeholder research, for example using recreational angler data.

3.3. MF12 Fisheries Management

Laurie Kell outlined the MF12 research programme and the individual proposed projects within this programme.

MF12-1 A comprehensive risk analysis framework

The aim of this project is to develop a framework to enable the evaluation of alternative management strategies for a range of conflicting biological and economic management objectives.

MF12-2 Critical evaluation of multi-species and ecosystem modelling approaches

Stock recovery and yield may be very different when multi-species considerations are taken into account. 

This project aims to evaluate the utility of different ecosystem and multi-species modelling approaches and the relative importance of multi-species interactions compared to other sources of uncertainty. 

The project will bring together disparate multi-species modelling activities.

MF12-3 Improved understanding and management of recreational fisheries

This project aims to provide a better understanding of the impacts of recreational fisheries on marine resources and socio-economic activities. 

Current and alternative management strategies will be evaluated through case studies (e.g. bass, tope, grey mullet and salmon) with respect to the economic value of recreational fisheries and their impacts on yield, population structure and sustainability.
MF12-4 Improved understanding and management of shellfish fisheries Issues

The project objectives are: to model the response of shellfish stocks and fishing fleets to different management options; to extend spatial modelling frameworks; to evaluate the relationship between inshore and offshore stocks and their response to exploitation; and to evaluate the impact of exploitation on the reproductive potential of stocks. 

MF12-5 Development of tools for estimation of stock status under uncertainty

The project aims to develop new assessment methods to cope with data and model uncertainty using new sources of information e.g. FSP, tagging and life history information. 

This new information should help to provide robust stock estimates for a wider variety of stocks, fisheries and management regimes.

MF12 Discussions (covering MF12-1, MF12-2, MF12-3, MF12-4 and MF12-5)

Robin Cook noted that the Management Framework appeared to be a powerful technique but he stressed the need to be more specific in relation to the biggest priorities for Defra science needs.

Leon Roskilly asked about changes related to minimum landing sizes (MLS) and whether these changes would have a disproportionate effect on species stock structures where females are larger than males. 

Laurie Kell stated that it would be possible to use the framework to asses the consequences of such actions for management. 

The importance of basing management decisions on a sound understanding of science was noted.

In response to a question as to whether any of the proposed projects would look at the risks of fishing out one component of a stock, Laurie Kell replied that the multispecies work would address this and the results would be synthesised in MF12-1.

Chris Frid noted that no single management tool could deliver sustainable fisheries and asked whether it would be possible to run simulations comprising different combinations of different management regimes.

Doug Beveridge asked whether before completion of the comprehensive risk analysis framework, it was possible to look at a ‘quick’ risk analysis framework.

Laurie Kell replied that this was exactly what Lindsay Harris had requested of the project team. 

John Shepherd stated that it would be interesting to communicate the results to the group of the ‘quick’ risk analysis framework. 

Chris Ninnes agreed that this would be a useful exercise and would enable the team to decide how to move forward.

In relation to MF12-3, Leon Roskilly noted that it would have been useful to have started this project earlier so that the results could have fed into the development of the Inshore Working Group strategy. 

Mike Kaiser stated that in relation to recreational angling, the project would be an academic exercise unless the fish being taken could be quantified. 

In response to Mike’s comment, Lindsay Harris noted that work was being undertaken within the Inshore Working Group to address this issue. 

Leon Roskilly added that the data was out there in various forms (environment agency logbooks, details of size and catch data from angling societies, returns from competitions, reports in the angling press) and that a data mining exercise was needed to access and pull together the data.

Tim Dapling stated that he was very interested in working with government to develop areas of collaboration.  In relation to project MF12-4 and inshore surveys, he noted that there were lots of vessels and equipment available that could be used to lower research costs.

John Shepherd noted that in the future it would be useful to have more information on the collaborations involved in each project.

Robin Cook stated that when specific projects were formulated it would be useful to distinguish between those projects that would be developing tools and those projects that would be addressing specific issues. 

Robin noted that once the tools were available then questions could be answered and if tools are developed in this way then others could also benefit from using them. 

Laurie Kell replied stating that MF12-1 aims to develop a general tool that can be used by many.

Doug Beveridge noted that MF12-2 involved one of the central drivers of fisheries management that would evolve over the next few years, yet it was a small desk based study. 

Laurie Kell explained that the project was designed to bring together the vast amount of work already accomplished in this area and highlighted the strong links to other proposed projects MF10-1 and MF12-1.  

4. Discussions on the overall sustainable marine fisheries research programme

John Shepherd asked for comments on the overall shape of the sustainable marine fisheries research programme and whether there were any omissions or any areas that needed scaling down.

John Shepherd asked for comments on the overall shape of the sustainable marine fisheries research programme and whether there were any omissions or any areas that needed scaling down.

John Lock stated that Defra had a finite budget for marine fisheries research and highlighted the importance of collaboration. 

John outlined the two marine bioresources projects where funding had been set aside to work jointly with NERC. 

Helen Beadman updated the group on the progression of Oceans 2025 and the marine bioresources initiative. 

Helen stated that she was taking part as an observer at this meeting to see which areas were covered by the Defra R&D programme and thus identify the gaps where the NERC/Defra Marine Bioresources collaborative projects could make a difference.

Mike Park noted that research on deep-sea species was missing from the research programme, he stated that there was currently no clear information on these stocks and asked whether they would be covered under the work on rare and declining species impacted by fisheries. 

Lindsay Harris stated that this was an issue he was conscious of and that that deep-sea species might be able to be included in project MF12-5.  Lindsay noted that large amounts of money needed to be spent in order to gather information on deep-sea species.

It was noted that the planned Defra research programme complimented the Scottish marine fisheries research programme well and there was no duplication of research.

Stephen Atkins stated that he agreed with the proposals as shellfish warranted further research but asked whether it would be possible to bring lobsters in to project MF12-4, he stated that research was needed in this area to decide on the best processes for management.

Chris Ninnes said that his impression was that the programme comprised very sound work and that Cefas were very competent to undertake this work.

Jo Myers noted that most of the proposed research focussed on species of commercial interest and stated that it was important, when adopting an ecosystem approach, to also consider the non target species. 

John Shepherd noted that a lot of data on these non commercial species was available at Cefas and FRS.

Research undertaken by other Defra divisions of relevance to fisheries was described. 

Paul Leonard highlighted the Marine Bill, research on Marine Spatial Planning and the round 2 offshore wind farms. 

In relation to proposed offshore wind farms, Euan Dunn stated that the North Sea RAC were interested in developing a project with Defra looking at spawning grounds and nursery areas and he was keen to engage with the relevant contact at Defra to discuss this.

Joe Horwood said he thought the balance of the programme was very good and his only concern was that additional funds would be needed for research on potential climate impacts. 

Joe asked whether Defra colleagues in the climate group would be funding this type of research. 

The possibility of co-funding research with the Defra Global Atmosphere Division was discussed.

5. Communication of science to stakeholders ��" Marine Fisheries Science Year Book

Lindsay Harris described how the NFFO had suggested the idea of the Marine Fisheries Science Year Book at the stakeholder seminar in the Spring and the idea had gathered broad support there. 

Lindsay stated that the Year Book is designed to convey information to the fishing industry and to the general public on the research Defra is funding and the results of this research. 

Lindsay asked for comments on the draft Year Book, stating that Defra could be very flexible on this and welcomed input on routes of dissemination, length, format and type of material covered.

The following comments were raised:

Target audience:

 The Year Book should be aimed at a wider audience and thus the section ‘what does this mean for fisherman’ should be expanded to ‘what does this mean for other stakeholders’ e.g. conservation bodies or yacht crews.

 The Year Book was generally thought to be pitched at the correct level.

Method of dissemination:

 From previous experience it was noted that a good method of dissemination would be a series of printed stand alone leaflets that could also be downloaded from the Defra website.

 An insert or a series of articles in Fishing News was seen as an excellent way of reaching the target audience.

 As Defra sends out information to all boat owners, this dissemination technique could be easily used.  However, it was noted that if targeting only boat owners, then the boat crews would not necessarily see the Year Book.

 The internet was thought to be a crucial tool in dissemination of the Year Book.

 The need to advertise web links on any printed literature was thought to be important so that people know where to go for further information.

 Fishermen would be most likely to read a document that was a few pages long.

 Dissemination should not just be restricted to the internet as not everybody will have access to this.

Year Book content:

 Graphs and maps containing information relating to each article were well received.

 Many people thought that at present the Year Book was too large a document but a few wanted it to be more comprehensive, if only as a one-off exercise when first published.

 Some group members thought the Year Book needed more information on the Fisheries Science Partnership projects especially those where the RACs are involved.  It was noted that other member states are not working with their RACs and Defra needed to advertise the successes in this area.

 The content of the Year Book should be kept as up to date as possible

 There is a need to focus on projects that industry are directly and actively involved in.

6. Meeting Close

John Shepherd thanked the group for their contributions and stated that the next meeting would take place in late April or early May 2007.

Stephen Atkins asked whether Defra had found the meeting useful and Lindsay Harris replied that he had found the meeting tremendously useful.

John Shepherd stated that at the next meeting it would be interesting to have some presentation of results and outputs of Defra funded research. 

It would also be appropriate to receive an update on the new programme and how comments from this group had been taken in account in developing the projects. 

John also suggested that it would be interesting to receive an overview of the research funded by the Marine Environment Division.

See also:



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