Project help with Northumberland’s marine management

Measuring and recording lobster sizes in Northumberland.
Measuring and recording lobster sizes in Northumberland.

This article is the fifth in a series of features about the vital work that NIFCA (Northumberland Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority) does throughout the region.

Students at the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University are helping to play a key role in the region’s marine management and conservation.

A white-beaked dolphin at Farne Deeps, by NIFCA member Dr Martin Kitching.

A white-beaked dolphin at Farne Deeps, by NIFCA member Dr Martin Kitching.

Over the last six years, NIFCA has strengthened its close working relationship with the university, particularly in respect of projects which are carried out by students, including BSc under-graduates, MSc graduates and those working for PhD degrees.

These studies have been on a range of subjects in the field of marine science, providing analysis and data vital to NIFCA’s management responsibility, while also supporting the careers of many talented young scientists.

For instance, a project is currently looking at the extent and locations of collection activities and potential effects on winkles and lugworms, and on associated species. But this is just one of a string of projects completed at the university in collaboration with NIFCA.

With rocky reefs being important habitats for marine animals and plants, one project has been mapping the extent of these areas, both between the tide marks and in deeper waters in Northumberland.

Given the importance of the lobster fishery in this habitat in Northumberland, another project has used underwater experiments to study possible impacts of potting.

The Northumberland lobster and crab fisheries are probably the best studied in UK waters, with detailed information on spatial and temporal changes in fishing intensity and catches, and assessments of management measures such as lobster v-notching by NIFCA and pot limitation within its district waters.

There have been detailed analyses of lobster movements and means of measuring the ageing of crabs, which is so important for gauging the health of the stocks.

A new project is also analysing century-old data on fish abundances and diets to give a picture of how the stocks and marine ecosystem as a whole have changed in our waters.

As a result of Newcastle University projects, much is known about the behaviour of harbour porpoises and white-beaked and common bottlenose dolphins off Blyth.

NIFCA has also assisted the university aboard the authority patrol vessel, St Aidan, and with the time and expertise of officers in the Delve Deeper distance learning course in marine biology, which is run by the university.

Meanwhile, NIFCA officers have, over a number of years, conducted surveys and recorded catch details of lobsters caught within the NIFCA district. Data collected includes the size and width of individual lobsters, their sex and whether they were carrying eggs. In total, there are now more than 20,000 individual records.

To gain an even better understanding of the lobster population, analysis of the lobster data is vital. This will be a major piece of work requiring specialist knowledge and a Masters student from the university will help with this.

This work will also assess the sustainability of stocks and the effectiveness of the management of the stocks which is currently in place. Once completed, the report will provide NIFCA with vital information on the local lobster population, to allow NIFCA to ensure that the lobster stocks are being fished at sustainable levels.

Professor Nick Polunin, from the university and a NIFCA member, said: “Sustainability of marine fisheries and whole ecosystems is so important to society, but the science needed to secure it requires dedicated and disciplined work over long periods of time.

“Our collaboration with NIFCA provides a foundation for the very interdisciplinary and challenging work that’s needed, offering information and context for the science, and also the opportunity to impact management outcomes in future.”

A key aspect of NIFCA’s remit is working in partnership with other agencies to fulfil the IFCA vision.

This vision states that ‘Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities will lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry.’

Also, anyone collecting bait, shellfish or engaging in fishing activity must comply with NIFCA byelaws and other applicable regulations.